The day after Christmas our world lost one of its saints. Desmond Tutu, an Anglican Bishop, was perhaps most prominently known for his opposition to apartheid in South Africa. It took me a while to understand that apartheid was the racial segregation of that country, and the rule of whites, the minority in that country, over its black citizens. His opposition was theological, vocal and action oriented. He was a voice for a theology of God’s people that celebrated the diversity that God has created, honoring each person, regardless of color, as a beloved child of God, equal in the eyes of God.
In reading about his life over the past few days, I am most struck by this quote, attributed to Bishop Tutu:
If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. (Desmond Tutu)
Staying neutral in Minnesota plays out as “Minnesota Nice.” In our culture we often value keeping your opinion to yourself and letting other people do and say what they want. If we are going to speak against someone’s words or actions, we Minnesotans usually do it behind closed doors in a passive-aggressive manner. This changes nothing, except creating callouses on our souls.
Bishop Tutu reminds us that saying nothing in the face of injustices is the same as partnering with those perpetrating the injustice. It is not possible to be neutral on injustice. Either you are speaking against it, or you are participating in it.
What happens if you are standing in line at the big box store and you hear an employee treating a person of color with disrespect? Do you speak up against the discrimination? Or do you silently think to yourself that it is not right? Or what happens when a female employee’s idea is shared by a male counterpart as his own? Do you speak up for your female co-worker? Or do you say nothing, not wanting to rock the boat. Or what happens at the family holiday table when a joke is told demeaning a LBGTQIA+ sibling?
Do you share your opposition to jokes that perpetuate stereotypes or dismiss people outright? Or do you “keep the peace” in the family by keeping silent?
I am grateful for the messages of Bishop Tutu that challenge us to speak up against the big and small systems that create imbalance and unfairness in our world. Bishop Tutu mirrors the voice and work of the one whom I follow, Jesus.
Maybe try it this week. Try setting aside Minnesota nice and our tendency toward passive-aggressive responses, and instead, stand up and speak up against injustices, big and small. It may not be comfortable, but it will be faithful.
May the new year ahead bring you’re the courage to stand up and speak up against injustice.
Pastor Becky Jo
PHOTO CREDIT: Joshua Wanyama. "Archbishop Desmond Tutu" by Wa-J is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, taken at a 2008 conference in Minneapolis, "Making Friends of Our Enemies."