Here in the US, the third Monday of January is a national holiday to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, jr., the civil rights leader. I recently came across one of his quotes where he said
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. ”
I’ve seen the truth of his comment played out several times in my life. It's what I talk about in today’s episode because it speaks to a relational skill we would do well to master. But first,
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The day our pastor yelled at me
When I first read the quote from Martin Luther King an incident popped up into my mind, like a jack-in-the-box that just sprung loose. It was the time the silence of my friends drowned out the words of my “enemy.” It happened the night the pastor of the church yelled at me.
- A deacon board meeting at church (we had no elder board at the time) A concern we talked about that evening was people leaving the church
- The 8 of us sat at several tables arranged in a horseshoe. I suggested we contact those leaving and ask why. Do exit interviews
- The pastor got angry, and while pounding his fist on a table said to me, “We don’t need to do that. I know why people are leaving. It’s families where the wife wears the pants in the family. Those are the people who are leaving the church!”
- His take on the problem was completely inaccurate. His anger caught me and everyone else off guard. I never considered him my “enemy.” But what struck me most about that evening and what I remember to this day was the “silence of my friends” sitting at that board meeting with me.
- Without regard to the pastor’s analysis of the issue, which in my view was woefully inaccurate, no one said anything in the meeting. Notjhing about his yelling at me and pounding his fist on the table. Even if you agreed with the pastor’s view, it was inappropriate to respond as he did.
The silence of our friends
- No one said a word to him, or to me, and I felt like I was hanging in the wind because no one called the pastor out for his outburst
- Who are these people I thought? Are they that weak?
- Days latter an older man on the board, my father’s age, did tell me privately that the pastor’s reaction to my suggestion was totally inappropriate. But he said nothing at the meeting
- As I think about that night, I think about the times I’ve been weak myself in failing to speak the truth when someone needed defending.
- I can think of two occasions where I failed to stand up strongly enough for two different youth pastors in two different churches. Both of these guys were great youth pastors. In one case, the board was legalistic and intolerant of new ways of doing youth ministry, and in the other, the senior pastor was intimidated by how gifted his youth pastor was in relating to people, and in his preaching, which was superior to his own.
Others who spoke for me when I couldn't speak for myself
These examples of “the silence of our friends” reminds me of several times when people actually did stand up for me. When they spoke for me. As a high school student, an English teacher recognized that I was capable of higher-level academic work and advocated for me to be placed on a more advanced track.
In my book, THEM, I write about a guidance counselor who was able to get financial aid for me to attend college 250 miles from home when I had no hope of ever getting any help. It’s no exaggeration to say that what she did changed the course of my life. For the better.
There are times in life when we could all use an advocate. And there are times when God presents us with opportunities to be an advocate for others. To speak on their behalf when they can’t speak for themselves.
Ending my silence to speak for those who couldn’t
A number of years ago I was at an annual meeting of the church we were attending. These are normally pretty dull affairs, at least for me. But in this particular meeting, there was a discussion about a missionary couple the church had been supporting for many years. The plan at this meeting was to stop supporting this couple because they were “retiring” and moving back to the US. People seemed in favor of this idea.
But I knew this coupleI knew that their definition of “retiring” was to return back to the US and continue the Bible translation work they had been doing for people groups in Asia for several decades. They didn’t need to be in Asia to do their work, but they still planned to travel back there on occasion. They were going to be working just as hard in the US as they were in Asia.
I’m not one to speak up in meetings like this, but I did this time. I couldn’t sit in silence while decisions were made about them. Fortunately, that original proposal was dropped, and their support continued.
Speaking up for teenagers
- I was a teacher back in the ‘70s at a high school in a semi-rural area in S.E. Wisconsin
- Kids, mostly boys complained about the poor condition of the student parking lot behind the school. Lots of potholes. Suspension systems being ruined. It was a mess.
- The students voiced their complaints, but nothing was done to correct the problem
My solution: check with the police and see if there is anything prohibiting parking along the highway in front of the school. If it’s legal to park there, start doing that and see what happens. So that’s what they did.
- It caught the attention of everyone. Within a couple of months, the city passed a “no parking” ordinance and put up signs along the highway in front of the school. Eventually, the parking lot was repaired.
- It brought me joy seeing these kids getting their voices heard. Their actions broke the silence of the school administration in ways their words could not.
- It’s been decades since this happened and several years ago I happened to be driving past this old high school where I taught and saw that the “No Parking” signs are still there.
So what does all this mean for YOU?
It’s just a couple of days past the Martin Luther King holiday here in the US, and it makes me wonder how the quote of his I mentioned in the beginning has been part of your experience. Where you remember not so much the words of your enemies as you do the silence of your friends.
It also makes me wonder if you are anything like me, where your silence, is like mine. And it has kept you from speaking up for someone who can’t speak for themself. Is there anyone you think God may want you to advocate for?
We certainly are not to speak up about everything. And many times the wisest thing to do is to sit in our silence and watch what happens.
It takes Godly wisdom to know when to speak, and when to remain silent.
Here’s the main of the episode I hope you take away with you
Here in the week where we honor Martin Luther King, jr. let’s take his words to heart and not become one of those he mentions in his statement, “We remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Let’s pray for wisdom to know when, and how, to speak up and give voice to those who can’t speak for themself.
Before we wrap up today’s show, if you’d like some input regarding a relationship question or issue you’re dealing with, I’d love to hear from you. Just go to JohnCertalic.com/question to leave me a voicemail. If you’d rather put your question in writing, just enter it in the “Leave a Comment” box at the bottom of the show notes.
I’ll do my best to answer your question in a future episode.
In closing, I’d also love to hear any thoughts you have about today’s episode. I hope your thinking was stimulated by today’s show, enough to put into practice what you’ve just heard about speaking up for others who need you.
For when you do, it will help you experience the joy of relationships God desires for you. Because after all, You Were Made for This.
Well, that’s it for today. If there’s someone in your life you think might like to hear what you just heard, please forward this episode on to them. Scroll down to the bottom of the show notes. Then click on one of the options in the yellow “Share This” bar.
And don’t forget to spread a little relational sunshine around the people you meet this week. Spark some joy for them. And I’ll see you again next time. Goodbye for now.
Other episodes or resources related to today’s shows
139: Why Should I Listen to This Podcast?
021: The Most Important Relationship of All
THEM – The Richer Life Found in Caring for Others
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Last week’s episode
193: The Underachievers Bible Reading Plan for 2023
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Thank you, John for speaking up and sticking up for the retired missionary couple in your church. They WILL be continuing connections and ministry with their international friends, albeit now in the USA. Their hearts are most likely still there as well!
Every month when I receive a ‘Thank You’ check from my home church in Michigan, I feel their practical and prayerful affirmation that I, as one of their retired missionaries, am valued and are contributing as their TEAM. As I read another strong book aloud together over WhatsApp with Nigerian friends, (missionary biographies, leadership helps, and Gary Chapman books) I sense the support of my home church backing me up. Who would have thought a few years ago that as retirees we could actually continue overseas discipleship over the phone?!
Thanks for your comments, Linda. “Retirement” is so different now for missionaries since the Internet age has the world overseas to our computer screens and phones. I’m so glad you are still impacting the Kingdom for good in Nigeria from your home in North Carolina. Keep up the good work!
Thank you for sharing some of your lived experiences. I share the experience of being yelled at by a lead pastor in a Board meeting (and Staff meeting) and like you, no one else in the room spoke up on my behalf. I’m especially grateful for your inclusion of a less popular quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and as an Ordained minister, I’m saddened by the reality that Dr. King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail was written to 8 fellow ministers of the Gospel (all white) in whom Dr. King placed his hope that they would support him in the work of racial justice. Instead, these white ministerial colleagues either told Dr. King to wait for a “better time” or, remained silent.
Thank you for sharing this, Michelle. I appreciate your comments. I’m sorry you were on the receiving end of your pastor’s anger. Good shepherds don’t do this kind of thing. And how lonely it must have been when others in the meeting let that behavior go unchallenged. Your comments about the lack of response to Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham jail certainly highlight the obstacles he faced he working for racial equality. Silence can sometimes be a deadly enemy.