Big Questions

Q Do official statements and petitions help to do justice?

A Words matter in justice work; words and actions together have more impact. It is often said that actions speak louder than words; making both count for justice is our goal.

A recent example is “Called to Resist Bigotry,” a public statement by more than 50 religious leaders in the U.S. I was glad to see religious leaders give voice to a deep moral concern about the increasing appeal to racism, hatred, and fear for political purposes. At Synod 2016, black female delegates testified about the importance of the Belhar Confession for their struggle against racism in New Jersey. Others dismissed it as words, not action, but words and action came together as synod took steps to make these words a greater part of church life, shaping us as a church that takes justice seriously.

Sometimes official statements clarify our views; sharing a common statement is one way to express personal views. Petitions can be a tool for giving voice to people who are outside the decision-making circle, with the hope of influencing those who have power to make changes.

A problem arises if our actions contradict our words. Proclamations against racism or sexism, for example, do not eradicate such behaviour overnight; over time they do influence behavior.

Silence in the face of injustice also sends a powerful message. May God grant us wisdom to choose both acts of speech and other actions that contribute to greater justice.

About the Author

Kathy Vandergrift teaches public ethics to university students and advocates for the rights of children.