Rev. Judy Agreeing With Huckabee’s “The Trouble with Being The Voice For The Voiceless”

This is a very good article by Tyler Huckabee  that is well worth pondering. I have been struggling with these ideas for several years and from several perspectives. Several years ago (1994 and 2001) I wrote a book about the personal, interpersonal , communal and political empowerment of people and groups within a social work perspective (The Empowerment Approach to Social Work Practice: Building the Beloved Community, Columbia University Press. ) Actually it was broader than “social work” as the re-visioned Second Edition (2001) included the spiritual perspective and the direction of building the beloved community-a concept Martin Luther King, Jr. made popular but borrowed essentially from the Gospel. The beloved community is ultimately the reign of God,which we long for and work for. When I began street ministry with the poor and homeless in 2007 and was ordained a Roman Catholic Woman Priest in 2008, I continued struggling with ideas of empowerment, of people having the power on every level including being empowered by God’s Spirit to speak and moreover to act for themselves. Although we provided a meal for people in the local park weekly, what we were trying to develop was the power, including the resources needed, for people to feed themselves AND one another on every level of being. We were concerned that many religious and caring people give food and alms to the poor but few take the longer and harder road of helping people to get out of poverty and do this for themselves and others. After interviewing over 125 homeless and poor people about their views on life, on God and on the church and how it could help them, and getting to know people week after week, it was clear that they wanted us to stand by them and assist when necessary as they got the material and spiritual resources to empower themselves and one another. In the words of one person “stand by us, and help us and when we can’t go any farther,then you can go for us”. My book Come By Here: Church With the Poor, written in 2010 and published in Spanish this year as Ven Aqui: Iglesia de los Pobres (AmericaStarbooks)is a story of these very spiritual and struggling  people and their empowerment. I am happy to share this article as it reminds us well not to primarily do for but to do with. I thank Rev. Deniray Doulos for sharing this with members of Ecclesia Street Ministries.

Rev. Dr.Judy Lee

The Trouble With ‘Being a Voice for the Voiceless’

Speaking out for injustice is a good thing, but how can you speak for the oppressed before you listen to them?

By Tyler Huckabee

October 3, 2014

Tyler is something else. He’s a writer who loves blue jeans, camping, hamburgers and rock and roll. He’s also the managing editor at RELEVANT. You can read all about his fascinating life over at The Unbearable Lightness of Huckabeing, or read every dumb thought that comes into his brain onTwitter.

For many teenagers raised in the church, going overseas is sort of a rite of passage—a “Global Perspective” you achieve like a challenge in a video game.

For me, that challenge was in Japan. I made a few friends over there, but none closer than a boy about my age named Ken, who was positively giddy about the idea of freedom. He said the word “freedom” like a magic spell, and told me of the ways he felt trapped in his own native country.

“When I go back,” I told him when we said our goodbyes, “I’ll tell people your story.”

“Or,” he said, “I could come to America and tell my own story.”

They Already Have a Voice

I was too young then to grasp the importance of what Ken had told me, but recent events have brought it to my mind again. As hashtag activism has gone from an Internet oddity to a full-on force for change, we have become enamored with what what we either call “being a voice for the voiceless” or “giving a voice to the voiceless.”

And this has often been helpful. Be it war in Africa, slavery in India, terrorism in the Middle East or even discrimination in the United States, Twitter users have made waves by empathizing with the oppressed and suffering. When news of an atrocity breaks the news, we rush to our social media platforms to sound the gong of injustice, and set our hashtags from stun to kill.

There’s a difference between being a voice for the voiceless and giving a voice to the voiceless. They are not interchangeable. And one is far more compassionate.

The sort of righteous anger we feel when we hear about injustices is a good thing. Bringing these issues to the world’s attention is often the first step in the right direction. There are people out there who are hurting. They need help. They need to be rescued.

But, in reality, they don’t need a voice. Not most of them. They have a voice. What they need is for more people to really listen. They need people to carry their cries further than they can.

There’s a difference between being a voice for the voiceless and giving a voice to the voiceless. They are not interchangeable. And one is far more compassionate.

Being a Voice for the Voiceless

Sharing our opinion on an issue isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes, when we are trying to be a voice for those who are suffering, we end up speaking over them, shouting our own view without first really stopping to listen to their experiences.

Think to the NFL’s Ray Rice debacle, a mess if there ever was one. I, like any right-thinking person, was appalled at what certainly appears to be, at best, horrid mismanagement and, at worst, gross deceit and a calloused attitude towards domestic violence.

Social media was taking aim at the NFL, so I was all too eager to join in and cry foul. But a funny thing happened when I signed on to Twitter.

I started seeing stories of women who had come from abusive relationships. Women explaining #whyIstayed, and sharing their heartbreak, their pain and—for many of them—their newfound freedom.

I realized that my voice was not necessary in this particular story. People were already telling their stories, and their stories came from a place of honesty and vulnerability and had the ability to create true impact. They were the real story.

What I needed to do was listen, learn and amplify their stories instead of my own.

When Your Voice Isn’t Needed

When our hearts are sensitive to pain and injustice, we have a tendency to charge in. It’s easy to assume we’ve got the basic layout of the problem. Whether it’s sex trafficking or racism, it’s easy to assume we understand what the victims are going through.

Instead of presumptuously firing our voice off into the Internet’s ether, desperately seeking to be seen as a champion for justice, take a moment to listen.

That zeal is good, but it often takes the place of real listening. Instead of presumptuously firing our voice off into the Internet’s ether, desperately seeking to be seen as a champion for justice, take a moment to listen. Offer your ear instead of your voice. For a moment, be a student instead of a cheerleader.

As Proverbs 18:13 tells us, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.”

That’s not to say you shouldn’t ever speak out: Your voice is important. But it is not always the voice that is needed.

The Least of These

Jesus’ parable about giving the seat of honor away at the table is an interesting one. It’s often interpreted as being about humility, and it is, but humility is a tricky thing. It doesn’t always look like you think it will.

Sometimes, it means putting your best intentions aside so that others can take the spotlight.

Sometimes that means investing your energies in giving a platform to the marginalized instead of taking the platform yourself.

Sometimes that just means learning more before you start speaking out.

Eventually, Ken came to America and he did get to tell his story—and he told it better than I ever could have.



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