When to Speak (and When to Stay Silent)

by Jessica E. Thomas | October 5, 2020

I messed up. I commented on a Facebook post without invitation. The meme was political and typical of today’s climate.

I guess I’d reached a limit. I’d watched too many videos of riots. Seen too many tweets gleefully wishing for the deaths of politicians.

Too much stereotyping. Too much hyperbole.

But that’s not an excuse. In this instance, I should have stayed silent.

Instead I commented, “Why are we at a place where we think it’s okay to wish for the death of our politicians”? And the discussion went from there, although it wasn’t really a discussion. It was two people talking at each other.

I had hoped to find common ground. But try as I might, I could not convey my point in a way that allowed us to find any agreement.

Someone else in the thread pointed out that the meme was dark humor. Okay. I can understand that. Sometimes when we are sad, mad, frustrated, or otherwise at our wit’s end, we exaggerate, we speak in hyperbole. We say things we don’t mean.

And by no means do I think this individual would kill Mitch McConnell. However, being a Christian I know it’s possible to commit murder in our hearts.

But it’s still not an excuse.

The thing is, not everyone lives by the Christian moral code. In the United States we are free to choose our religion, including the religions of atheism and humanism.

I can’t expect a non-Christian to live according to Christian ethics. It’s not my place to judge a non-believer against a standard that they have not accepted.

So, as Christians, in this political climate which is full of hate and verbal and physical violence, when should we speak? And when should we stay silent?

Before I go into detail, I’ll boil it down:

Christians may speak about politics whenever they want, assuming it is done lovingly.

But Christians are not obligated to speak. We may remain silent if we choose.

WHEN TO STAY SILENT

I want to give you an extreme example. Many of us have seen the movie Schindler’s List and are familiar with Oskar Schindler’s story. He was able to save hundreds of Jews by “playing along” with the Nazi’s. By flying under the radar of a murderous regime, he was able to save lives.

He did not speak out against the Nazi party. He stayed silent.

Luckily American politics is nothing like Nazi Germany, although some would try to make you believe it is. (That’s the hyperbole I’m talking about.) But I think the same principle applies. Sometimes we are more effective when we do our good deeds in silence.

There is Biblical support for this approach.

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matthew 6:3-4 NIV

and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you Thessalonians 4:11 NIV

By staying silent, we don’t feed our prideful nature. We also, perhaps more effectively, preach the gospel via our actions.

When we are silent about our politics, we don’t allow the label of Republican or Democrat to become a stumbling block for a non-believer who might be curious about the good news.

Therefore, in the area of politics, some Christians are called to and ought to stay silent.

WHEN TO SPEAK

Christians are free to speak about political issues in public. We’re free to run for office, or campaign for candidates.

What we should not do, according to the Bible, is make any candidate or political party an idol. When we do so we are committing a sin, and when we allow that sin to spill into our social media accounts we misrepresent Christ.

Assuming our priorities are in check, it’s okay to venture into social media debate at our own risk. The apostle Paul provided an examples of Christlike engagement while he was in Athens.

While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. Acts 17:16-17

But if you’re like me, you’re weary of speaking up for a cause or a virtue only to be verbally steam-rolled by people who disagree. If you’re like me, you’re at a point where you want to clamp your mouth shut and allow Washington D.C. to devour itself. (Heh. Maybe that’s just me.)

However, as daunting as it may be, we sometimes need to speak to offer an alternative to those who have ears to hear.

The Bible doesn’t mince words. It shows us the darkest parts of human nature, but ultimately, the Biblical story—God’s story—leads to life: the life of Jesus Christ, who in turn offers life to us.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10 NIV

From this we can deduce that God places high value on life, and so should we. So, I argue that if we want to be selective in what we choose to speak out about (for the sake of our own mental health), we should focus on issues of life. Abortion is the obvious issue that comes to mind, but there are others.

Some will argue that issues of universal health care, welfare for the poor, free school lunches, free contraception are also pro-life issues. While the Bible teaches us to care for the widowed and the poor, this is an individual mandate.

Nowhere does it say the government should provide these services. Nowhere does it say the government should not. Neither option is morally superior to the other.

If someone questions your character because you believe in limited government, don’t listen to them.

If someone believes in more government safety nets but you don’t, don’t lecture them.

If a Christian tries to make you feel less than because you do not support certain government programs, well…they are wrong.

If you support government welfare programs, but someone else does not, remember you’re not morally superior.

Bottom line, within a free society, Christians may influence government by speaking out about causes that are near to our hearts. But we should not idolize government or judge fellow Christians based on issues that reside within the realm of Christian liberty, and we should not expect non-Christians to follow an ethical code they have not accepted.

HAVE PRIORITIES

When choosing when to speak and when to stay silent, decide what your priorities are. What issues are the most important to you? Speak about those, and speak with love.

If you can’t decide what issues to prioritize, focus on life. Which issues devalue life the most? A government must preserve and promote life or else society will devolve into tyranny and chaos. So, when we see government devaluing life, it is important that we speak.

REMEMBER

Human governments are and will always be world systems. Christians shouldn’t expect any government to absolutely adhere to Judeo-Christian values, and we shouldn’t attempt to strong arm the public to follow our standards through legislation. We can, however, actively support movements and policies that foster peace among people of diverse beliefs, assuming those beliefs value life. In doing so, we help preserve our rights to worship freely and to speak freely about the good news so that others might be saved.

About the Author

Jessica E. Thomas graduated summa cum laude with Academic Honors in Writing from Ball State University, receiving a Bachelor of Science in English and a Minor in Creative Writing. She began her professional career in marketing at a large Indianapolis law firm. Since transitioning to Information Technology in 2001, she has worked in the pharmaceutical, student loan, and finance industries as a computer programmer, systems analyst, Web developer, and technical writer. She has authored two novels, three novellas, a poetry collection, a short story collection, and a children’s book.