In the face of hostility and incivility, what gives you courage to speak up for your convictions?
Dr. Jeffrey Haggray
July 29, 2019
That’s alright. That’s alright. That’s alright. That’s alright.
Since I know I’ve got a seat in the kingdom that’s alright. – Negro spiritual
What gives you courage to speak up for your convictions in a world seething with hostility and incivility? We live in a peculiar historical moment that is fraught with countless challenges related to human rights, freedom, injustice, religious liberty, economic disparities, violence, and much more.
We have an expectation that governmental officials will boldly identify the problems that threaten our civilization, and with visionary precision will propose wise solutions; and then with graceful diplomacy will lead us toward greater humanity, hospitality and wholeness. However, increasingly it seems that such persons holding positions of leadership lack either the moral vision, the will, or enough courage to cast a unifying vision that calls people together across the grave socio-economic, political, religious, and cultural divides that breed hostility and keep human beings apart.
A common denominator at the root of much of the inaction and inept leadership from persons in recognized positions of leadership with standing to lead social change for the better is ‘fear.’ Fear of backlash, retaliation, removal from office, being disliked or rejected, and all manner of suppressed fears lie at the root of the failure to speak up for what is right, and to simply offer a vision that heals rather than remain silent so as not to cause offense.
My parents taught that ‘sin is knowing what is right, and then failing to do it.’ Over the years, I have also learned some humility regarding the perils of treating my own perspective as ‘the right’ perspective. Yet, some causes related to fairness, treating people right, caring for vulnerable persons, and respecting the dignity of all persons are not simply a matter of perspective, but are basic to our humanity, and basic to living the Christian life.
Some causes related to fairness, treating people right, caring for vulnerable persons, and respecting the dignity of all persons are not simply a matter of perspective, but are basic to our humanity, and basic to living the Christian life.
Memories of my ancestors continue to inspire me, as they were subjected to racial hatred, violent oppression and discrimination; and yet they clung to their faith in God, and faith in the belief that a better day was coming. That same faith emboldened them to fight for freedom and justice despite whatever backlash came their way.
Recently, I was reminded of the old spiritual lined above, which simply said, “That’s alright. Since I know I’ve got a seat in the kingdom, that’s alright.” Those words spoke to the underlying spirituality that emboldened them to stand for justice. What a remarkable perspective that placed ultimate hope in belonging to a beloved community headed by a loving and just God and inhabited by other adherents to true faith. The mere confidence that the unseen future promised citizenship within a beloved community where everybody would be treated equally gave my grandmother, and countless others like her, the courage—amid lynching’s, night riders, cross-burnings, and other unspeakable horrors—to speak truth to power with this stern refrain, “That’s alright. Since I know I’ve got a seat in the kingdom, That’s alright.”
Dr. Jeffrey Haggray is executive director of American Baptist Home Mission Societies and Judson Press.
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