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Author Kathy Khang on why Christians need to speak up — on politics and everything else

The 'Raise Your Voice' author talked to RNS about speaking up at protests, on social media and around the dinner table.

“Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up” and author Kathy Khang. Images courtesy of InterVarsity Press
(RNS) — It took Kathy Khang a lifetime to write “Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up.” But it took just a week this summer for the Christian writer, speaker and yoga teacher’s first solo book to go into a second printing.
Khang first entertained the idea of writing a book about 10 years ago, but even with years of experience in journalism and a decade of campus ministry behind her, she didn’t think she had anything of value to say to readers. In short, she silenced herself — something all too common, she said, in particular for women and people of color. Now she hopes her fellow Christians will learn, as she did, that finding and raising one’s voice is not a “perfect science.” Drawing on the examples of Esther, Moses and others who find their voices in the stories of Scripture, she shows in the book how speaking up inevitably means making a few mistakes. “For those of us who are Christians or come from a Christian background, the book we so revere actually reminds us that God invites imperfect people to raise our voices and to make a difference,” she said.
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Khang also writes in “Raise Your Voice” about joining the Women’s March after President Trump took office, demonstrating at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago after Trump announced a travel ban affecting people traveling from Muslim-majority countries and using social media to call out white Christians on racism. In recent weeks, many people of faith also have spoken out online and in person about the #MeToo movement, Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court and the upcoming midterm elections. With those things in the news, she said, many Christians “are wrestling with what do they believe and how should that influence the way they engage with the world around them.” But the book is not just about politics, the author said, and it’s not just for women. Khang talked to Religion News Service about raising one’s voice at protests, on social media and around the dinner table. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why is it important for Christians to speak up on issues that are important to them?

I believe Christians ought to be engaged in civic duty as well as all that is going on in the world around us, in part because of what we believe and what we say we believe. It should be so basic when we pray the Lord’s Prayer (“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”) that God’s kingdom is not going to come if we’re just sitting around and waiting to go to heaven.

You protested the Trump travel ban and at the Women’s March. What would you say to Christians who think that kind or engagement is too political — or whose politics may be on the other end of the spectrum?

I would say that, particularly if they did vote for the current president, they did something that is exactly what the protesters are doing — they took advantage of the tools that we have here in the United States to enact change, according to what we think the rules ought to be, based on our values. I recognize folks who share my religion may not agree with my politics. That’s the beauty and the difficulty and the tension of living in the United States right now. Those who share the same faith can believe differently because of our lived experiences or because of the way different decisions impact our communities. It’s an unfair, unjust world, and I hope that people who disagree with the protests will take a moment to understand that’s part of what’s driving them.

You write about social media. When and how is engaging online a productive way to raise one’s voice?

Social media is such an interesting beast. It’s an incredible tool. To people who look at social media and say, “Oh, it’s awful. It’s just this cesspool,” I say, “Well, actually, for a lot of people of color and globally, it’s been a wonderful tool to access information and make connections that were completely unavailable before.” It’s very easy to be somebody who only criticizes what is happening. But through social media you can invite people to make little changes. You can start sharing information you normally wouldn’t share or engage your friends and followers with simple questions about what’s going on currently.

What are some other ways for people to have influence?

“Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up” by Kathy Khang. Image courtesy of InterVarsity Press

The easiest thing is to just look around at the people you know. I think of the conversations that do and do not happen around family dinner tables. I think that that’s really an important place where we can influence the people we love. It can also be the hardest because it’s people we see on a regular basis. The other space that comes to mind is our churches. That’s also very tricky because we often get the message that politics has no place in the church. But if you’re a pastor, you are preaching about how we live our lives. Many white Christians have not had to think about how politics impacted their lives, but as a Korean-American, I know my life here in the U.S. was very much determined by politics. In prayer groups, in small groups, we should be talking about how the things going on right now are impacting not just us, but other communities.

You also write about times when silence is necessary for survival. Can you explain that?

Growing up as a child of immigrants in the U.S., I was told out in the world that you have to speak up, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, you have to raise your hand and be assertive. But at home, there was a different set of rules. Then again, the rules about being assertive and speaking up can be very dangerous for people of color. I think about the conversation that my black and brown friends have to have with their children about law enforcement — that speaking up and demanding your rights can endanger your life. So whenever anyone chooses to raise their voice, recognize that there’s a cost involved, even if it’s a cost that you never have to pay.

So how do you balance when to speak and when to be silent and care for yourself when things get nasty?

I don’t think that I’ve found that there is a balance, nor is there a practice that lands me consistently in a comfortable spot every time. Every time I raise my voice, there is a level of discomfort, even though I know it’s the right thing to do. Having community around you, having friends who understand you and support what you do, is so vital. They may not choose to say and do the things that you do. That’s what I love about my girlfriends: We each have a very different temperament, and we have different belief systems. But I love the understanding and support I get from them. And sometimes it is important to just disengage. Not every fight is the fight you have to fight.

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