Minister in the Mirror: Exposing the Sin of Silence

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”–Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“I’m gonna make a change, for once in my life.” –Michael Jackson


I truly believe that the transformation of society is possible. I believe this so much, in fact, that I enrolled into seminary fully convinced that a love for God, coupled with a commitment to unity and camaraderie, could transcend any ethnic, sexist, or politico-socio-economic border that obstructed human flourishing. With my back to the wind, I embarked on my journey to contribute towards the cultivation of “the Beloved Community.” Yet, seven years after taking those inaugural first steps towards togetherness, I now stand at a great impasse, unsure which road leads home. It is as if I have been swindled into buying what I thought were the five magic beans of brotherhood, only to climb a beanstalk that, inevitably, leads to nowhere.

Now, please do not misunderstand me. I believe in God, today, more than ever and I am more committed to the cause of justice, in all its complexities, more than ever. The ambivalence that now arrests me is not caused by any uncertainty regarding my purpose or sense of calling but, rather, is engendered by the naivety that initially fueled my pursuit towards corporate righteousness. As a young devout follower of Jesus, I fully expected all Christians to speak to the structural injustices of society with the same acerbic tonality of Jesus himself. What I encountered, however, were pastors and leaders who, instead of mobilizing their parishioners to apply the logic of the cross to the imperial structures surrounding them, fervently were committed to the task of narcotizing their parishioners with a noxious spirit of social complacency. As a young seminarian seeking to effect change in society, I fully expected the seminary to be a bastion of prophetic speech and witness. What I encountered, tragically, were institutions more committed to the permeation of the status-quo than the proliferation of subversive righteousness. Instead of being empowered to use our prophetic imaginations to change the world, many of my fellow comrades were proverbially epiduralized with a pernicious spirit of passivity which, to this very day, has rendered many of them socially numb to the cries of the oppressed.

In light of the Ferguson grand jury decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson, it is imperative that all who claim to hold to possess a faith whose origins exist beyond themselves take a long, hard look in the mirror and decide what legacies they will write, not only for themselves, but also for those who will come after them. While Freedom Fighters in Ferguson are currently transforming Missouri jail cells into citadels of redemptive possibility, many ministers around the country are only concerned with turning Golden Corral into a consecrated gluttony workshop following Sunday Service. While a remnant of prophets bare their backs against a system that perpetually militates against hope, I can guarantee you that there is a cadre of ministers somewhere who are currently advocating, of all things, for young preachers to make sure their handkerchief matches their tie (what?!?!). Needless to say, something is seriously wrong within the hallowed halls of faith.

One of my favorite songs of all-time is Man in the Mirror by the late, great Michael Jackson. I truly feel that Man in the Mirror should be incorporated into the liturgy of many of our congregations. Perhaps, if recited long enough, many of these so-called “leaders of the people” would begin to examine their own motives, repent, and begin to mobilize, for once, the masses to fight for a cause greater than themselves. Though, I would love nothing more than to believe that such a change was in the wind, I am reminded of the words of the late great urban prophet, Tupac Shakur, who lamented “some things will never change” at the end of his classic anthem, “Changes.” In many ways, Changes and Man in the Mirror are, in reality, two-sides of the same coin. Both songs speak to the potential of the human race but also diagnose the apathy and gross indifference that plagues society. Nevertheless, as a minister of the gospel, I choose to believe that our potential will overshadow our apathy. I choose to believe that there is a mirror that awaits every minister of the gospel and, in that mirror, they will discover the truth about themselves and their world. I choose to believe that the criminal miscarriage of justice perpetrated by the Ferguson grand jury has awakened a race of slumbering freedom fighters who refuse to allow injustice to have the final word.

I choose to believe that this climb we have all begun will not be in vain. I have to believe that this beanstalk leads to Somewhere.


James Howard Hill, Jr. is currently a graduate student at Southern Methodist University where he is completing his Master's degree in Theological Studies. A subversive theologian who considers himself ontologically Hip-Hop, James is an activist-scholar called to labor beside those commissioned to bridge the gap between the Academy and the community. He is lover of Dostoevsky novels and a connoisseur of 90's black sitcoms.