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The Silent Jackass

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“I must make two honest confessions to you my Christian and Jewish brothers, I must confess to you that over the last few years, I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor, or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to ORDER than to JUSTICE, who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension, to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail

The Silent Jackass is one of the most common forms of being a jackass, because it is disguised as civility. Silence seems like peace, but in actuality it is nothing of the sort. I have fallen into this trap for a long time. For years I have observed Social Media vitriol and rolled my eyes at the immaturity and contention. Why the big fuss? Everyone needs to simmer down.

The day after Donald Trump was elected President, I got on a phone call with a group of Pastors from all over the nation for a regularly scheduled cohort meeting. This small group of pastors were from relatively diverse contexts, and many of them were utterly heartbroken over the election, and specifically over evangelical support for Trump. They were heartbroken for their people—the minorities they ministered to, the LGBTQ community they ministered to—who were suddenly afraid that hatred and bigotry would be permissible under this new administration. I sat silent on that phone call, and kept thinking to myself, “What’s the problem? God is sovereign, why are we making such a big deal of this? Presidents come and go.”

The “why are we making such a big deal of this” perspective is one of the mantras of the Silent Jackass. The Silent Jackass thinks that peace in life is free of conflict. “If I just stay out of the fray, I won’t make it worse.”

Don’t get me wrong, in a world of vitrol and finger pointing, sometimes a little silence is welcome. The jackass part occurs when one of two things happens: Either the silent one begins to think they are in fact superior to the vocal ones clamoring for justice and causing a disturbance, or the silent one sees injustice happening, and is too afraid to say something. Both are dangerous.

“The Silent Jackass comes in two flavors. Those who are silent because they fear the repercussions of speaking up, and those who are silent because they honestly don’t see the pain of others. Both are dangerous.”

I see the Silent Jackass as so many suburban white people turn their nose at the protests of the African American community every time there is an officer involved shooting. Suburban white people call for civility. They call for peace. They call for order. (Please hear me: I’m not saying every officer is at fault every time there is a shooting; I’m talking about the lack of compassion and unwillingness to acknowledge the suffering of another group of people.)

As Martin Luther King demonstrated, peace doesn’t come through silence. It requires speaking up. It needs to be fought for. It doesn’t require violence, but it does require conflict and tension.

The problem rests in our definition of PEACE. Peace in the Hebrew Bible is Shalom. It’s physical, spiritual, and emotional harmony with the world, others, and the God who created it all. It isn’t just the absence of conflict. Shalom is an ideal, it will never be experienced fully until God himself restores all things for good.

The forces of the world and the forces of the enemy are constantly fighting against Shalom. They are trying to pull it all apart. If nothing is done at all, like entropy, things just dissolve. It requires the active work of the Holy Spirit and the costly loving response of God’s people to fight against this natural decay.

“The Silent Jackass is fine with things staying the same, or living under the delusion that the necessary changes will happen in silence, without conflict, without needing to get their hands dirty.”

So when Martin Luther King spoke up, I believe it was the Spirit of God in him, crying out for a little piece of Shalom. When we call our churches to LOVE, PEACE, JOY, and HUMAN DIGNITY, we are fighting for Shalom.

The Silent Jackass is fine with things staying the same, or living under the delusion that the necessary changes will happen in silence, without conflict, without needing to get their hands dirty. Let me remind you of how many times Paul was imprisoned for the gospel, how many Christians had to die for the gospel to spread to you and me. Let me remind you that peace doesn’t come from silence. The most beautiful acts of love come from speaking up for another’s injustices.

Don’t be the Silent Jackass. Step up to the mic, you’ve got peace to spread!