Principled Silence?

“Silence is consent.”

Maybe you’ve read such things on social media lately. Maybe you’ve expressed such sentiments yourself. And if you value expressing your moral outrage via social media, then do so, and know that I support you. But please don’t disparage the character of those who choose not to make their feelings, thoughts, and opinions public via Facebook or Instagram. A form of virtual peer-pressure seems to be consuming social media these days, suggesting that if you don’t publicly proclaim your anti-racism, then it proves you’re a closet racist. Such suggestions are absurd, but the pressure remains.

Maybe I’m just naïve, but do I really need to post on social media that I believe that murder is wicked? Should I do so each and every time a person is murdered? If that were the case, I would do little else each day, for people die unjustly every moment of every day. Am I really required publicly to express moral outrage on Facebook each time a politician lies on television? If so, my days would be spent doing little else, for politicians lie with almost every breath. Must I change my profile picture each time sin occurs in the world or one human being mistreats, denigrates, or abuses another? If so, I would never rest from the work of protesting on Facebook. No doubt murder, lying, racism, and other evils should promote grief, sorrow, and even outrage in every heart, but must I be constrained to make sure everybody knows just how outraged I am every time I’m outraged? When outrage becomes a mere status update, it also becomes empty.

So I’ve chosen not to spend too much time posting on social media just how consistently sin perverts and destroys that which God created to be good, or how much it grieves me to see people destroy one another. Instead, as a Christian minister, I have dedicated my life to serving others, to teaching anybody who will listen that all human beings are created in the image of God and possess inherent value and dignity. I implore people every day to forgive each other, to refuse to retaliate, and to treat each person as you would have them treat you. I teach them to glorify Jesus, who is the Prince of Peace, by demonstrating—not just talking about, but actually demonstrating in the way I live my life—quiet and faithful love for my neighbor, submission to and prayer for the civil magistrate, and honor for all persons, regardless of color or ethnicity or political affiliation.

In short, not all talk is cheap, but much of it certainly is, and virtue signaling on social media is a poor substitute for practicing actual virtue. A Facebook post is inherently cheap, for it costs me nothing, but the actual work of being a good neighbor is hard, and it is unspectacular. It takes place not in moments of public protest, but in the small, unseen moments of kindness and dignity and respect that remain unknown and uncelebrated, but which form the fabric of a life well-lived and of friendships that transcend categories of racial division.

Some people who post their moral outrage on social media work to combine that public expression of grief with genuine acts of virtue. And if that describes you, then I applaud you. Others, however, use their social media platforms in order to signal a virtue that their lives in fact lack, for they’re more interested in being perceived as virtuous than in cultivating virtuous conduct itself.

Some people may think that my silence is consent, but I think that my actions speak louder than their words.

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