In December, I won the Yip Harbug Youth Activist Award from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. For a moment, I was overwhelmed by the generosity of FFRF and I felt so proud of the work I had done, but, ultimately, I hadn’t done much of anything at all.
I won my award for an opinion column I wrote for the Daily Mississippian titled, “The misrepresentation of church and state.” The column discusses public reaction to a FFRF complaint regarding Christian decorations in the city park in Collins, Mississippi.
My generation speaks out about injustice, much like so many generations before us have done. We want change, and we’re tired of corruption and cruelty at the expense of the weak and marginalized. I admire those my age who put their passions to work.
But speaking isn’t the same enough. It’s vitally important, but it isn’t the same as marching and protesting. We need voices, we need bold men and women who refuse to back down from their positions, but words without teeth are fruitless. Voices and action must be paired.
I’m guilty of this, and much of this criticism is aimed at me. What little name I have made for myself has been off the words I write. At my core, I am a writer. My skills and heart will always lead me back to writing, but I am more than fingers on a keyboard. If I never get dirt under my nails, if I’m never spat and cursed at, what have I truly done?
A man I’ve long held up as a personal inspiration is Shane Claiborne. When I was still a Christian, his book, The Irresistible Revolution changed how I saw God and how I saw being a Christian. I would eventually learn how to verbalize his thoughts in a fairly common phrase in political circles: “There is no passive path to justice.”
The first step to being active is to forsake silence. No more quiet discomfort in the face of discriminatory language. We must settle into an uncomfortable grace and accept the fact that even those we love can—and will—say misguided things that contribute to oppression. Our voices are powerful in addressing bad behavior.
We must also live everyday as active participants in justice. We must acknowledge our own biases and not hold ourselves above the fray. We must demand more of ourselves because we can do better. Our virtue will live in our intentionality. Both can be glorious.
But I still don’t think this is enough. I hear about rallies and protests, but I don’t participate. When Governor Phil Bryant signed the despicable HB 1523 into law, I didn’t join my friends and protest outside of the governor’s mansion. I am a voice shouting into the abyss. No matter how many pages views I get, I haven’t changed the world.
Many of the activists that I admire aren’t activists in the way that many people think about them. They are people like Jen Hatmaker, a woman who lives her beliefs fully. She has adopted children and truly seems to live her life in a way that is purposefully just.
Both the people I have mentioned thus far are staunch believers and use their faith to guide their lives. That is something I very much love about Christianity—people who believe it whole-heartedly and purposefully can change the world. Unfortunately, too few take up that cross and live so simply and purely for the man they believe is their savior.
Secular activists like Ta-Nehisi Coates use their platform and the words to inspire and lead activism. Words are powerful, and Coates proves this. But he does not stop at words.
As a writer, I hope to write words that inspire people. I hope people read my writing and feel compelled to do something, but if I don’t also put action behind my words, they are a hypocritical shout into the abyss.
I know what my first steps are to correcting my hypocritical behavior are, I just haven’t put forth the effort to do it.