"A Conspiracy of Silence"

Occasionally, you will hear a fellow church member say, "I don't know anything and I don't want to know anything!" Often these well-intentioned friends are acknowledging without officially doing so, that something unethical or discordant to Judeo-Christian values has happened publicly or privately in the community or local church life, but they don't want to get involved. So, they choose to remain silent rather than get involved. I'm not sure where this approach to conflict or to something controversial is be found in the Bible! I rather think it lacks biblical foundation!

Actually, and conversely to the silent approach to conflict resolution, there is something akin to the popular statement, "If you see something, say something!" in the Bible! The book of Amos in the Hebrew Scriptures affirms the righteousness of God and His judgment upon such silence when others are being taken advantage of. God through His prophet says, "For I know...how great are your sins - you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and turn aside the needy in the gate." (Amos 5:12). Amos further warned Israel of the "coming day of the Lord " when God would judge those who "would make the ephah small and the shekel great...with false balances" and thereby,  "buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals" (8:5b-6).
Greenwood Massacre of 1921

While the Bible calls upon believers to be mature, discerning and wise "to distinguish good from evil" (Hebrews 5:12-14), it also demands as Amos prophesied that persons of faith seek and work toward justice. There isn't anything in the Word that calls for us to stick our heads in the sand, say nothing and pretend that there is something virtuous about willfully turning a deaf hear to things we can change.

I recently attended a symposium on "race and reconciliation" at the Chiara Center in Springfield. I sat at a table with whites and blacks from our community who through honest interaction were trying to openly discuss and address the racial tensions that exist in our culture today. Bill McGee, an African American businessman whom I have known for years, told his story of growing up in a racially divided community in Southern Illinois much as I did except he is black and I am white. And the differences in our experiences were noticeably contrasting.

Bill grew up in a large family of ten children with little opportunity for advancement. His parents only had an 8th grade education. At twelve years, Bill went to work shining shoes to help support his family since his father died prematurely at 50, leaving his mother caring for six children who remained at home.  Yet, he was able through a work-study program to attend community college and go on to receive a baccalaureate degree from a state university. Bill would go on to teach school for fourteen years before changing careers and becoming a business owner. He is the first of his family to get a college degree and to become a business professional. This was not an easy accomplishment during the turbulent and racially charged nineteen sixties!

Bill has been a successful businessman serving our community for more than 35 years now. He is married with children and grandchildren, is active in his faith community, and serves on an important board that supports responsible business practices. He regularly writes about his experiences and perspectives. Bill recently shared with me a horrible incident that took place in a southwestern state over ninety-eight years ago when a successful African American business community was destroyed by a group of white vigilantes who were never called to justice (see a documentary of the event, Tulsa's Race Massacre, 1921, at History.com). I had no knowledge of this dark and painful event and Bill contends that this is because students are not being accurately taught all the truth about racial matters in our school's history classes today.

Again, we can see in history, community and church life that people often hide behind a pseudo lack of knowledge about events rather than seeking to bring the truth out in the light so others can know the truth and seek justice. I doubt that we would ever admit that we have promoted such a "conspiracy of silence," but that is exactly what we do every time we hide behind our facade of ignorance when the truth is plainly within sight. Are there times when you have been unknowingly or even knowingly complicit with others in hiding the truth? Jesus says that the "truth (of His Word) will make you free!" (John 8:31-32). Let's bring social and racial injustice out in the light of day and speak up and turn our voices into actions of change!

Mike Keppler, retired pastor,
active churchman and
doting grandparent.
Contact: drmjkeppler@gmail.com


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