The work of social justice cannot be done unless injustice is first seen, and not until the victims are first acknowledged. To pursue social justice may force us into choosing between acceptance or denial, action or inaction, and we cannot face something we willfully choose to ignore.
Being a faithful witness means listening to survivors and believing them at their word without shaming, criticizing, or belittling. It means humbly accepting our own limitations and ignorance so we can clearly see and accept the truths of others. To identify and overcome our own biases, stereotypes, and presuppositions, we shouldn’t force ourselves into only seeing what we want. Believing victims is not only a reflection of our trust but also a symbol of our love. Being a truthful and honest witness tells the oppressed: We see you. We believe you. We love you.
Facing the truth and deciding to oppose injustice is hard, uncomfortable, and risky. It may mean confronting a friend about their abusive behavior, or reporting a coworker’s racist remark, or talking to a family member about their xenophobic nationalism. Being a truthful witness leads us towards taking a stand and accepting the conflict and vulnerability necessary for doing the work of social justice. Recording a police interaction with your smartphone. Publicly disclosing the abuse of a well-liked personality. Reporting an incident of sexual harassment to HR. Seeking legal assistance and refusing to cover up injustices at your church, work, or school. The first step is hard, and might not be enough. It’s often a matter of taking many steps. If nothing happens, press further, and harder, and continue to advocate, protect, and pursue justice for the sake of loving our neighbors.
Being a witness serves many important functions. It’s a public act of solidarity where victims know that they’re believed, loved, and worth fighting for. A witness upholds truth, which helps counteract propaganda, conspiracy theories, and historical revisionism. It reveals truth in the face of denial. Injustice thrives upon lies, manipulation, and deceit, but an honest witness thwarts such evils. Sincere witnesses also serve to influence public sentiment, and honesty, validity, and accuracy legitimize social justice causes while simultaneously destroying unjust ones.
Standing between the perpetrators of oppression and the victims are numerous people, agendas, and systems, and sometimes all it takes for justice to happen is for one person to courageously rise up and truthfully take a stand. Tyranny assumes most will be too uncomfortable, afraid, busy, or distracted. Are we?
As Christians, we’ve often failed at being witnesses. Throughout history, we saw oppression but mostly did nothing. Racism, sexism, and bigotry were met with either complicity or silence. Because of this, racist, sexist, and bigoted movements found a home in churches across the United States, and instead of combating injustice, Christianity became one of its largest producers. Sadly, many times we as Christians weren’t willing to fight oppression. Because of this, a political movement of millions would embrace Christian nationalism, White supremacy, and xenophobia. A patriarchal system objectified, oppressed, and shamed women, and rampant misogyny and sexual abuse permeated Christian communities. LGBTQIA+ individuals faced bigoted hate from all sectors of Christianity, and the emotional and physical trauma was so widespread that the damage is still unfolding. As Christians, we must boldly be a witness and condemn oppression in all its forms. But even as injustices continue today, we still struggle to bear witness. Too many of us see oppression but do nothing. The consequence of such inaction is the loss of human dignity and life.
We must be willing to be a witness. The labor of social justice—like following Christ—is a marathon. It can be grueling, difficult, and exhausting, but by participating in social justice work we bear one another’s burdens: the burdens of injustice, inequity, and oppression. We do this because of love, and love doesn’t give up easily. Press on, sojourner, and keep up the good fight.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. —2 TIMOTHY 4:7
Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence, but a false witness utters deceit. —PROVERBS 12:17
Have you witnessed injustice within your life? How can you be a public witness against injustice?
Do you see any oppression or injustice that’s being rationalized or rejected by society?
God, give me the strength and courage to be a witness. May I be a truth-bearer, no matter how uncomfortable or inconvenient the truth may be. Give me eyes to see and ears to hear the cries of the oppressed. Allow me to see and feel the pain of my neighbors. Then give me the courage to pursue justice. May I never prefer to escape into the comfort of ignorance and avoidance. Please send your spirit to lead me to the forefront of loving the world around me.