The appalling silence of good people

Yesterday we honored one of the greatest men in our country’s history, Martin Luther King, Jr. I do a lot of speaking around the country, and in almost every speech I find a way to include this quote from King: “We will have to repent in this generation, not only for the evil words and deeds of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.” I often ask myself, “What am I silent about?” Are there injustices going on around me that I don’t recognize? Just a few generations back, slave owners went to church on Sunday morning, then beat or raped their slaves on Sunday evening. Were there opposing voices within the church at that time? Yes, but the majority voices prevailed, and slavery went on for hundreds of years. My own parents lived in an America that denied African Americans their basic human rights and simple human dignity. Does this shame you like it shames me? How could they be so blind, we ask?

On his most recent return to Haiti, Rich Stearns prays for Magdalena Dolis and her family, who live in one of the scores of makeshift camps that house more than 1 million people rendered homeless by 2010's massive earthquake. (Wayne McGraw/WV)

But are you and I any better? What are the injustices that we are missing? Think broadly here—beyond just a wrong done to a person. I think it’s also an injustice when a person is suffering and we have the ability to help but don’t. I was just in Haiti last month. There are still over a million people homeless because of the earthquake a year ago. It’s an injustice if they suffer and we don’t help. This month I was in Bolivia and have seen the kind of poverty and hunger that contribute to the nearly 24,000 children who die every single day from preventable causes. That is an injustice. And what about the billions of people globally who don’t have access to clean water? Another injustice. The gaping disparities between the haves and the have-nots is injustice. It’s tempting to say, “that’s someone else’s responsibility, not mine.” Someone smarter or richer or more powerful. Other people, not me. But amazingly, God has entrusted this work of fighting injustice to His people—to you and to me. That’s why King was so vocal about the “appalling silence of the good people.” Do you see a problem that needs fixing? A justice that needs righting? Be like King. Don’t turn back. Don’t turn away. Don’t wait and hope for someone else to come along. Take the advice of another of my favorite activists, Mohandas Gandhi: “Be the change that you want to see in the world.”

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