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The end of silence

I like noise. Perhaps because I’m an extrovert, I can find silence to be a deathly hush. Maybe it also has something to do with growing up in a place where people were (and are) silenced through the threat of violence. Intimidation still has a grip on too many communities and estates in Northern Ireland and even articulate folk think too much before they speak in order to say nothing.

Alfred Douglas wrote the immortal words: ‘the love that dare not speak its name’, at a time when public decorum trumped personal integrity. That which might frighten the horses was put away, sometimes literally, to maintain a facade of outward serenity and peace.

When I teach groups about peace and reconciliation, I often ask them to visualise what 'peace' looks like for them. All of us have notions of peace gleaned from our family traditions, our cultures and the theologies of those who nurtured our faith. Often these notions become unwritten and unspoken assumptions that determine our reactions to any acts of reconciliation.

One common assumption is that peace is a place where there is little noise or things that disturb. like a library in a secluded monastery. That has not been my experience. For me, peace is a noisy, bustling, open space where people engage with one another and there is much laughter and sometimes tears. Silence is often a sign of disconnection, a breakdown of trust and relationship. When individuals are in conflict, it often begins when they stop talking to each other; the beginnings of conflict are marked by silence.

Martin Luther King wrote: ‘In the end, we shall remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.’ As we approach Holocaust Memorial Day this weekend, we acknowledge that such evil was only possible because too many stood by and refused to intervene or speak out. In honouring those who entered the gas chambers – Jews, Roma, Slavs, Jehovah’s Witness, LGBT people, Communists and disabled people – we remember the homophobia that meant that gay men rescued from the concentration camps were then taken off to finish their sentence in Allied-sanctioned jails.

This week, the new Methodist organisation, Dignity and Worth, launches its website. Inspired by MLK’s vision of the Beloved Community, it calls for an end to the silence that has impeded the movement to full equality and dignity for LGBTQIA+ folk in the Methodist Church. It is a silence that means well but refuses to act when confronted with homophobia. A silence that fears to take risks or initiate change, waiting to be told when it is safe to do the right thing. Dignity and Worth offers to support those who are called to act for justice in the service of the Beloved Community. Surely it is time for change!

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