The Courage to Say Something

Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis

This Week at Plymouth, April 12, 2024

Whether at home or at work or within any of the arrangements that make up our existence, humans learn to banish our awareness of certain facts into a hidden compartment of the mind to make momentary peace with whomever we have to.

—David Dark, We Become What We Normalize

I attended a recent event where Senator Raphael Warnock, the first Black senator from the state of Georgia and the first Black Democrat elected from a former Confederate state, was the keynote speaker. Nearly twenty people mistook me for the senator, approaching me to take selfies and sign their programs. All night, I had to tell people I was not him. It would have been so much easier to go with the flow and avoid the discomfort of such an awkward encounter. Still, I committed to speaking honestly about the matter, which did not spare anyone their embarrassment. While the stakes were low for me in telling people they made a mistake, I’ve wondered how often we let little inaccuracies and misunderstandings go uncorrected or unaddressed to avoid and evade discomfort. How frequently does the pressure to keep the peace lead us to stifle our intuition, our voices, and our moral power in pursuit of change?

Given all that is currently rending the fabric of community, relationships, and the nation, silence may seem the best way to avoid and evade the worst of human behavior. David Dark describes this as deferential fear that silences our concerns, questions, and resistances about the status quo to “go along to get along.” It is a posture that leaves us relying on the symbolic or performative over tangible change, which signals to all the right people that we hold the correct belief or aspiration for change without making it. But when the stakes are high, when it comes to affirming and protecting the dignity and humanity of others, sometimes it is our courage and willingness to practice “the art of noncompliance,” the refusal to just let it go, that may be the best chance to effect needed change.

During the Easter season, I often think about the journey of Jesus’ disciples from fear to witness. Left to pick up where Jesus left off after his death and resurrection, the apostles, disciples, and followers of Jesus forged ahead to minister in a world that did not tolerate Jesus’ prophetic challenge to the status quo. The same imperial power that executed Jesus was still in control and was no less prepared to dispense with them as quickly as it did with Jesus. And yet, empowered by the Spirit of God, these followers of Jesus’ way overcame their fear, refusing to normalize the right of imperial power to dominate, oppress, and exploit. It would have been easier to go along quietly, but empowered by resurrection faith to “risky goodness and group courage,” they refused to adjust to the status quo and changed everything. Hallelujah!