Courage to Speak

Author Carol Ferguson
Author Carol Ferguson

There are two things I have learned about General Assembly this week: it is amazing, and it is terrifying.

Not for everyone, I hope. I have met many wonderful Presbyterians for whom General Assembly is a total joy. But for this introverted, conflict-avoidant, first-time attendee, the thought of 2,000+ Presbyterians all chattering, discussing, and arguing at once makes me want to crawl in a hole and never come out.

Perhaps this is why I have been amazed by the courage of my fellow Presbyterians. The courage to come here at all, to say that the work we do at General Assembly will make enough of a difference in the world that it’s worth leaving our families and communities behind, worth losing a week of regular work. The courage to speak up in plenaries and committees, to argue passionately for their convictions and call us out when the rest of us, in our General Assembly fatigue, are willing to let something slide.

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The gospel does not allow us to crawl into holes, to avoid conflicts, or to stay home and close the blinds.
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I’ve been serving on the Peacemaking and International Affairs Committee this week, discussing everything from nonviolence to drones to military sexual assault to our relationships with Cuba, Syria, the Congo, and beyond. In a committee with such breadth of focus, those who speak play a key role in educating the committee. Resource people, overture advocates, and commissioners and delegates find ourselves carrying the immeasurable responsibility of sharing our knowledge, wisdom, and convictions. Our own voices are the ones to testify to the abuses we seek to stop and the peace we seek to promote.

Young Adult Advisory Delegate Scott Overacker speaks on the floor of the Assembly Photo Credit: The Detroit News, David Gurainick
Young Adult Advisory Delegate Scott Overacker speaks on the floor of the Assembly
Photo Credit: The Detroit News, David Gurainick

Some speakers bounce right up to the mike. With the gusto of a revival preacher they appeal to us to do what is right, and I will freely admit that one or two of them have moved me to tears. I love their passion, their fearlessness, their bold witness, their clear call to speak out for peace and justice for all.

But I have to admit a deeper appreciation for those other speakers. The ones who don’t quite know how to adjust the mike with one fluid motion. The ones who grip prepared speeches in their trembling hands. The ones whose voices are stuttering and shaky. The ones who have stood up to speak, not because they were eager, but because the gospel has not allowed them to remain silent.

Theirs is the witness I will carry forward with me this week.

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When we encourage our congregations to commemorate the Armenian Genocide, we raise our prayers with the thousands of voices still suffering extreme persecution for no reason other than their place and family of birth.
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The gospel does not allow us to crawl into holes, to avoid conflicts, or to stay home and close the blinds. The gospel compels us to speak, whenever and however we can, so that God’s good news of bread for the hungry and healing for the wounded and peace for the abused can be known.

Peace Dove PeopleAfter all, the words of our overtures, at least in the Peacemaking and International Issues Committee, are likely to be far more influential than the actions they call for. Many of the overtures we approved in this committee will result in actions that are more bark than bite. Some of our overtures direct our stated clerk to write letters to the president; others call on leaders in other countries to halt abuses of power. Unlike the committees whose work has focused on the policies and functioning of the Presbyterian Church (USA) itself, we may not see much in the way of immediate results from the work we have done.

But still the voice has power.

When we express our concern for children trapped in sexual trafficking, we join our cries to the thousands of voices calling for healing.

When we call on all Presbyterians to respond to aggression not with violence but instead with renewed calls for peace and safety, we join our pleading with the thousands of voices calling out for hope.

When we encourage our congregations to commemorate the Armenian Genocide, we raise our prayers with the thousands of voices still suffering extreme persecution for no reason other than their place and family of birth.

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It is my prayer that our courage to speak will not fail after we leave the convention hall.
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Yet even these thousands and thousands of voices are easily drowned out by the millions screaming for anger, revenge, and greed. It will take more than a biennial commitment to speak out and speak up for justice and peace in the face of daily violence and oppression.

110919-speak-the-truthIt is my prayer that our courage to speak will not fail after we leave the convention hall. Even when there are no mikes to carry our words to the far reaches of plenary hall, no moderators to call us to the floor, no ready audience waiting to listen, I pray that we will still speak out for justice, for peace, for compassion, for hope. Whether our voices are loud and practiced or still a little shaky, whether we know just what to say or have to pray for the Spirit to help us with every word, whether we whisper or shout or type or text or tweet or just talk to those around us, we must continue to raise our voices for the work of the kingdom.

And that ‘we’ begins with me.

This introverted, conflict-avoidant, tongue-tied Presbyterian will do my best to honor the courage I have seen in my sisters and brothers here at General Assembly by speaking out when there is suffering.

And if you’ll join me, who knows how many others might hear us?

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AUTHOR BIO:

Check out the actions taken by the Peacemaking and International Issues Committee.

Read more articles on the 221st General Assembly, including other young adult blogs!

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