In a broken and fearful world. the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing, to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior, to unmask idolatries in Church and culture, to hear the voices of peoples long silenced, and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace. In gratitude to God, empowered by the Spirit, we strive to serve Christ in our daily tasks and to live holy and joyful lives, even as we watch for God’s new heaven and new earth, praying, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (From Brief Statement of Faith, PCUSA)
Those elegant words are a section from the PCUSA’s Brief Statement of Faith, written in 1983 when the two largest Presbyterian denominations at the time united. I had the privilege of studying that text with the late Dr. Jack Stotts who had served as President of two Presbyterian seminaries and was moderator of the committee formed to write that text. The phrase “To hear the voices of peoples long silenced,” held a particularly important place in his memory. As he began to recount the story, the voice of the then long retired, deeply esteemed theologian began to crack. The unexpected emotion startled us to full attention.
Dr. Stotts recounted a moment in the final stages of the committee’s work. A Native American representative, who had been silent throughout the long deliberative process, asked to speak. With firm, but quiet dignity he said, “The way you have conducted your work has silenced my voice.“ It was clearly a moment of deep personal regret in Dr. Stott’s telling. In other words, the very process, the pattern and cultural norms, the committee had used to do the work had defeated its intent: to be an inclusive statement of faith in a moment of unity. Unaware of the other, the dominant culture failed to hear that there were others present. That was the origin of the phrase in the completed text: in a fearful and broken world, the Spirit gives us courage to “hear the voices of peoples long silenced.”
We have experienced a cultural moment, where black lives, marginalized by the dominant culture, have risen to speak. At the same time, I have also heard white Christians, who have had a passion for racial and social justice for decades lament the fact that in spite of so much felt work, a great deal has not changed. This is a large social/political question, of course, but this is also a United Methodist question. It is a personal question. Two years ago our Annual Conference celebrated a Queer Lives Matter, moment, if you will. I had the privilege of speaking. I was surprised, however, in that moment at other voices, black, Native American, LatinX, women, Asian and Pacific Island peoples, who also plead to be heard in our work toward equality. I should not have been surprised. That has given me pause these last months. There is so much left undone in spite of decades of work. Why? My guess, is that same issue exists within each and every church, and just perhaps, within each and every person.
I am convinced that there are underlying ways of working and thinking, that if left unexamined, will continue to silence the voices of people yet to be heard. My piece last week on binary thinking, comes from this line of questioning. Binary thinking easily silences a voice, simply because we disagree in part. We even dehumanize one another on the way to convincing ourselves we are right. It is a problem raging in our politics in the moment. However, I’m going to just leave the question with you today. What ways of thinking and working are present in our way of being that defeat the good we intend even in the midst of our doing of justice and kindness?
— Peace, Pastor Mark
Image: History of Los Angeles, detail of one section
Artist unidentified, early 21st century