Speaking out for truth and justice is just one of many responsibilities we have as Christians. But I suspect it is the one that we most willingly shirk, simply because it can be so costly.
Being a Christian is costly in many ways. It is costly to live a life of obedience and service, costly to go on loving against the odds, costly to persevere when we are tempted to give up and costly to give generously of our energy, time and money. But when we speak out we pay a cost of a different kind, because speaking out makes us a target for attack.
John the Baptist lost his head for speaking out about vice and corruption – but he did not shrink from confronting individuals in power when it was appropriate to do so. The prophets and apostles were persecuted for what they said, rather than what they did. Jesus himself was crucified for his words, rather than his healing or his miracles.
And yet Christians are often reluctant to risk ridicule, attack or ‘loss of influence’ by putting their heads above the parapet. Karl Marx was particularly disdainful of Christian priorities, ‘You Christians have a vested interest in unjust structures which produce victims to whom then you can pour out your hearts in charity.’ And whilst we would not embrace his communist philosophy or solutions he did have a point. Real concern for the marginalised is evidenced both by charity and by speaking out.
Bishop Dom Header Camara of Recife, Brazil, who lived as a bishop among the poorest of the poor during the Brazilian dictatorship (post 1964), made this observation. ‘When I served the poor they called me a saint, when I asked why they were poor, they called me a communist.’ Camara understood the structural reasons for the deep poverty of so many of his fellow Brazilians. He challenged the obscene wealth of the rich, and the embarrassing linkage of the Church with the powerful in his country.
As Christian doctors we have a responsibility to speak out on behalf of the marginalised, the disempowered and those who have no voice– the poor, elderly or confused, those with head injuries, dementia or strokes, those suffering from chronic or psychiatric illness, the terminally ill, children, unborn children and human embryos.
We need to speak out in everyday conversation, through our NHS trusts and hospitals, through the BMA and Royal Colleges, through government and on the Christian, secular and medical media – both nationally and internationally. And we need to encourage one another to make and create opportunities and remember that we are not alone.
Mordecai’s words to Esther urging her to speak out when her own people were under threat are just as relevant to us today: ‘If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance… will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?’(Esther 4:13-14)
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy… If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? (Proverbs 31:8,9 and 24:12)