“Silence is Violence”
“Silence is Compliance”
These are among the slogans wielded by protesters following the killing of George Floyd. I’ve seen such signs in news coverage and my home town, where protests continue on a daily basis.
I understand the anger surrounding Floyd’s death. No one should be murdered by an officer sworn to protect the public. I also agree that people—police included—should be held accountable, to the fullest extent of the law. If the law is inadequate, change it. This is what we’ve done in America since our founding.
At the same time, I don’t accept the false choice presented by protesters: that I must speak up and join them or support racism by default. There are many appropriate responses to Floyd’s death; each American is free to choose their response. We are even free to respond inappropriately, a freedom used by those who are rioting. I pray most don’t choose this. Still, what makes free speech free is that we can choose to speak or be silent; we can choose to act or not.
The false choice offered by protesters smacks of ideology: blind devotion to an ideal. What ideal? That depends on which protester you ask. This is far from a homogenous group. Many agendas fill their ranks. One thing is sure: there is no reconciling or working with ideology. Ideology is only appeased when people submit to it.
As I see it, a lot of America’s socio-political dynamics are rooted in grievance and unforgiveness. We all know how hard it is to forgive, especially when someone has truly done wrong. We are all tempted to hold onto grievances. The power of being right is intoxicating and easy to rationalize. We want to punish those who hurt us even more than we want healing for ourselves or the relationship. Ideologues exploit this situation for their own harmful ends.
This state of things deeply concerns me. When a person or group is injured, steps can be taken to right the wrong but that won’t heal the injured party. Forgiveness is the only path to healing, and only the one who has been hurt can forgive. If a person or group holds onto offense, no amount of amends will help. When offense is used as an ideological weapon, that is another situation altogether. It is no longer about reconciliation or fixing a problem. It is about bullying and forcing compliance with the ideology.
From my perspective, many protesters are engaged in an ideologically motivated campaign of accusation and unforgiveness. I cannot join them in that campaign or speak in favor of it. This is to say nothing of the wanton destruction that often accompanies protests. Not all protesters are ideologically motivated or destructive. But there’s no separating one from the other so I can’t participate.
Jesus forgave when everything was still wrong, when no amends had been made. While dying, He forgave the ones killing Him, and offered His life as the amends they were unable to make. This is our example.
As I observed in another post, Jesus mentioned a sin that wouldn’t be forgiven. It wasn’t racism or the other things that drive outrage-politics today. It was unforgiveness: “For if you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing” (Matt. 6:14-15).
The last few weeks, I have often thought about Jesus’s trial. He was accused of everything from insurrection to blasphemy. In response, He said very little. Isaiah prophetically captured this when he wrote, “Like a lamb led to the slaughter and like a sheep silent before her shearers, He did not open His mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). When faced with a crowd that seems ideologically bent on criminalizing anyone who questions them, silence might be the best option.
No matter what protesters say, silence isn’t always violence; it isn’t always compliance. When I look at Jesus, at His simple and beautiful example of forgiveness, I am reminded of the old saying: “Silence is golden.”