Back in middle school, I read the book “The Hiding Place” about the ten Boom family. Corrie ten Boom and her family choose to be part of the Dutch Resistance during World War II. In a hidden room, behind a fake wall in their home, they harbored those people the Gestapo hunted. Historians estimate that the ten Booms saved nearly 800 lives before they were also captured and carted off to a concentration camp.
I can vividly remember the impact that book had on middle-school-me. As I pored over the pages, I wept at ten Boom’s description of the concentration camp and their suffering. Would I be brave like that? I wondered. If I had lived during World War II, would I have had the courage to place my own safety at risk to hide others?
I wondered, “How did good people let things get to that point? How did an entire country of people allow that to happen?” Would I have gone along or would I have spoken up?
When I learned about slavery and the Underground Railroad and the Civil War, then when I learned about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement, I wondered similar things. Would I have risked my own security and comfort to help those without the same security and comfort? Which side of history would I have been on?
As I learned about plantation owners buying and selling human beings, separating children from their parents, auctioning people off like livestock, I wondered, “How could any decent person have agreed to that? How did an entire country of people allow that to happen?” Would I have gone along or would I have spoken up?
And here I am – 48 years old, and I’m finally understanding the answers to those echoing questions from my childhood.
Which side of history would I have been on?
Well, which side of history am I on right now?
As little brown babies have been forced from their parents’ arms and placed in internment camps, what have I done? As border patrol agents turn asylum seekers away at our border, what have I done? What have I done as black people are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of white people? What have I done as unarmed black and brown people have been killed by police officers? What have I done as systemic racism has become more and more glaringly obvious? What have I done as white supremacists have been courted and coddled by the President of the United States? And what have I done as insurrectionists attack our democratic republic and plot to assassinate our President’s political foes?
As Glennon Doyle says, “The best indicator of whether or not we would have shown up in that civil rights era -in the 60s- is whether or not we’re showing up in this civil rights era.”
The best indicator of what I would have done then is what I am doing now.
As followers of Jesus, we can’t stop speaking up about oppression and abuse of power. I believe our purpose in life is to love God with all that we are and to love other people as much as we love ourselves. If our calling as followers of Jesus is to show other people who Jesus is through our words and our actions, then we are compelled to speak up against injustices. Because I know how Jesus feels about the marginalized and the oppressed. I know how he feels about abuses of power and mistreatment of those he would call “the least of these.”
I am familiar with God’s instructions on how to treat strangers and aliens. I know who Jesus says my neighbor is and how I should behave toward her. I know that in God’s eyes, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (Galatians 3:28); there is neither American nor Mexican; there is neither citizen nor immigrant; there is neither black nor white; there is neither Democrat or Republican. We are all one in Christ Jesus.
Because of the teachings of the Bible, I know that I am supposed to treat other people the way I want to be treated. That’s the most basic thing I learned in Sunday School as a little girl.
And so we cannot keep quiet.
When our grandchildren sit around our rocking chairs and ask what we did about the immigration crisis or about the refugees at our border, when our grandchildren ask what we did when black men’s necks were crushed by white police officers, when men with “Camp Auschwitz” shirts stormed the Capitol, when billionaires grew their wealth by over 931 billion dollars while 400,000 people died of a pandemic and hoards of people lost their livelihoods — when my grandchildren ask what I did, I want to tell them that I spoke up every chance I had, that I refused to be silently complicit, that I wrote my representatives, that I donated money to help reunite children with their parents and to get legal representation for them, that I helped buy personal protective equipment for underfunded Native American clinics, that I wore a mask to protect myself and others, that I helped minimum wage workers pay rent and medical bills, that I helped pay cash bail for black civil rights protestors.
I want to tell my grandchildren that I did what I could with my voice, my time, and my money. I definitely don’t want to say, “Well, I didn’t want to be too political, so I kept quiet.”
Would I be brave? Would I risk my own security and comfort, the approval of others, to help those without the same security and comfort? What side of history would I have been on then? What side of history am I on now?