Knowing When and How to Speak Up

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The reason we must speak up is because God commands it — but also, our world needs it. Imagine if Bryan Stevenson had stayed quiet, or William Wilberforce or Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

I’ve recently become aware of an alarming tendency in myself. I’m not proud to admit this, but on certain volatile issues in our society, I hesitate to speak up — or I refrain altogether.

Sometimes I overthink it, wondering if what I would add to the conversation would be beneficial. Other times I think of people I care for who may be offended by my opinion or misjudge my motives. Still other times I just plain “chicken out.”

Regardless of the reason for my silence, I miss opportunities to speak God’s truth into a confused culture where the enemy’s deceptions seem to be winning the day.

There’s a moment in the musical “Hamilton” where Alexander Hamilton is having a conversation with Aaron Burr. As they discuss the volatile politics of the day, Burr says:

While we’re talking, let me offer you some free advice:
Talk less; smile more.
Don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for.

Hamilton’s immediate response: “You can’t be serious!”

As a man of conviction, Hamilton couldn’t imagine holding back his opinion and “throwing away his shot” to stand up for what he believed. Too often in myself I see more of Burr than Hamilton.

Reason to speak

The other day, I was reminded that the word Christ isn’t just Jesus’ last name (Thanks, Dr. Tony Evans); it means “anointed one.” As Christians (literally “little Christs”) we are called to do what Jesus would do to influence our world. Jesus called people out on their sin. He spoke uncomfortable and at times shocking truths about His Father’s kingdom. He also showed unusual compassion and mercy to sinners.

At times, this feels like an impossible balance for me to maintain. I tend to default to grace and mercy, knowing that God loves everyone and desires all to come to repentance. But recently I’ve felt challenged to speak up. When, from an extremely public stage, someone with influence claims taking a human life was worth it, I feel compelled to point out why, based on Scripture, this cannot be true.

I understand that abortion rights is not the only issue, nor the most complex, in our world today. But the bigger principle is that we are called to speak up for those who are defenseless or oppressed, whether that be a preborn baby, an orphan or a member of a persecuted ethnic group.

Proverbs 31:9 is clear: “Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Doing this will cause some people to dislike you or even oppose you. That’s why Aaron Burr coached Hamilton to, “Talk less; smile more.” However, a person who fails to speak up forfeits his influence. And in the case of a Christian, forfeits eternal impact.

Act justly and love mercy

I recently watched the movie “Just Mercy.” I was deeply moved by the story of lawyer Bryan Stevenson and his impassioned quest to get an innocent man — Walter McMillian — off death row. As I learned a bit more about the stark injustice taking place in my country (and lifetime!), I was reminded again of the importance of speaking up and opposing errant popular opinion. From the “Plugged In” movie review:

Just Mercy is a beautiful example of the work, the courage and the faith it takes to push against the wrongs of this world: faith that a broken system can still be repaired enough to yield a semblance of justice. Faith that good people can stand up for a good reason.

The reason we must speak up is because God commands it — but also, our world needs it. Imagine if Bryan Stevenson had stayed quiet, or William Wilberforce or Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Micah 6:8 says, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (NIV). This is where we find how we are to act justly — in humility — keeping in step with our leader, Jesus Christ.

We discover another prescriptive for how we should speak in Colossians 4:6: “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Harsh, arrogant speech will never influence in the way that gracious, humble words will.

As His follower, I have God-given influence. He commands me to wield it in a humble, just and merciful way. But wield it, I must. Whether I’m talking with a friend or speaking from a larger stage, I represent Him. May I have the courage and faith to speak up for what I believe in a way that makes a difference in this world and the next.

Copyright 2020 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Suzanne Gosselin
Suzanne Hadley Gosselin

Suzanne Hadley Gosselin is a freelance writer and editor. She graduated from Multnomah University with a degree in journalism and biblical theology. She lives in California with her husband, Kevin, who is a family pastor, and her four young children: Josiah, Sadie, Amelia and Jackson. When she’s not hanging out with her kids, Suzanne loves a good cup of coffee, conversation with friends, musical theater and a trip to the beautiful California coast.

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