My class, Topics in the History of Christianity, consists of me and nine other classmates. We are creatures of habit. We do what we have done since the beginning of the semester. We show up and we sit in the same, unassigned spot. Every day. One Friday in September I decided I wanted to change that. I came into class and sat in the back corner of the classroom instead of my usual seat in the front row. As everyone came in, they were puzzled but they sat in their normal unassigned seats, that is, until I said, “We are not bound by our habitual nature.” This led to every single one of them sitting in a different seat than they had for the five weeks leading up to this day. Action caught attention, but words stroke change.
That was a silly little social experiment, but also a picture of how social justice should be fought for. I am a white, middle-class, cis gender, Christian female living in America. I am drowning in privilege, and it would be so easy for me to coast through life without speaking about or caring for issues that do not affect me personally. However, as a Christian, dare I say, it is my duty to advocate for my neighbor: my gay neighbor, my black neighbor, my immigrant neighbor. Advocate. Not just love—not the superficial act put on by Christians. Not the “I’m not racist. I have friends that are black,” or the, “I’m not homophobic. I have friends that are gay.” This is an excuse, an out, a way of convincing oneself that you love those who are different from you, so it’s okay that you remain silent when they are oppressed or attacked. Silence is easy. Silence is weak. Use your words.
Let’s say you do love your black, Latinx, immigrant, LGBTQ+, lower-class neighbor, and you do care about their safety, rights and equality. It was not enough for me to sit in a different desk. Words needed to come out of my mouth. It is not enough for you to internally think rightly of your neighbor, you must advocate. Action is great. Peaceful protests and demonstrations raise awareness. Sharing a post on your Instagram story or a black square on your feed is cool and all. People notice these things, but then have the option to keep living—unchanged and unaffected—in privilege. The most effective advocacy I have ever experienced happened over civil conversations. It was a friend approaching me with a gracious love, a love that will not allow me to continue living in ignorance. It was Neta Sibert, sitting with me over a meal and softly explaining to me that I have white privilege and I can either remain silent or use my privilege to give a voice to the silenced and the marginalized. It was Jillian Simon sitting with me in the LC and gently educating me on the huge injustice and humanitarian crisis that is happening in the Middle East. It was my nonbinary middle school student explaining to me how cruelly they get treated at home and at school. It was people using their words to have a productive conversation with me that have shaped how I think today. These conversations have changed my thoughts, not so they could stay in my mind, but so I can speak up for my hurting neighbor through conversation. Start speaking. Start advocating for change. Use your words to genuinely love your neighbor.