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

“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.

About the author

Emily McFarlan Miller

Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for RNS based in Chicago. She covers evangelical and mainline Protestant Christianity.

13 Comments

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  • Really good interview I was in agreement with the responses to the questions. Raising your voice is simple but being understood rather than just noticed is complex.

  • Historically, there is a tendency for Christians not to speak out. Throughout the Tanakh-Old Testament, the Israelites were much the same way. It was YHWH-God’s prophets and a few notable bold Israelites who were the exceptions in speaking out and making a difference in their communities.
    Kathy Khang point out the importance of Christians speaking out and getting involved. Yes, Christians are sometimes divided in their views, but ultimately, this should not be. Christians are loyal to and committed to Jesus Christ. That should make, more, or less, for harmony among Christians. All too often, Jesus is not quoted. Nor are Jesus’ specific priorities referred to for Christians’ central mission.
    When we speak up publicly, we need to stay focused on Jesus Christ.

  • First though Wayne – people who claim to be “Christians” (as with “Muslim”, Hindu, Buddhist etc.) need to agree on what they mean by “Christian”. There seems, within the the Bible and even within the claimed words of Jesus of Nazareth, to be an awful lot of wiggle room for accommodating personal preference.

    If I’m going seriously to talk with someone who claims to be a “Christian” I generally need to spend several minutes understanding what they think that means – and it’s not always the same after those few minutes as at the start.

    Most people who believe in a deity seem to believe in one who broadly supports their views, and where it doesn’t, regard themselves as the better judge in present circumstances.

    I can’t help but think that an almighty deity who allows such diverse opinions, leading to such diverse actions and the harm done to people in its name, would be one who really wasn’t bothered about its creation. I suppose one could repeat the “God moves in mysterious ways” mantra but there are so many examples of human suffering that could be alleviated by a divine nudge that one really has to wonder why this deity doesn’t sort them; after all – he started the ball rolling knowing what was going to happen didn’t he?

  • the Christian writer, speaker and yoga teacher’s first solo book

    A Christian who practices yoga? I’m not sure if Pat Robertson would approve.

  • Greetings Dog! You are correct. There are different factions within each religious group. Each faction claims to be correct, and others wrong. It is unfortunate that there is so much division. Part of what you alluded to, I think, is differences of interpretation. I would rely more on what I think was Jesus’ method of interpretation, that is, generally speaking, fulfilled prophecies as specified in each of the four different ethnic Gospels. It is not quite as simple as that, but as a general hermeneutic, I think this approach does assist comprehension. Of course, it looks a bit different in the original Hebrew and Greek texts than it does in our English texts, which are a bit more simplified, but most Christians are unaware of this.

    Yes, dog, there are many different understandings of what “Christian” means. Your point is well taken that “deity allows such diverse opinions” and that is the extraordinary power of freedoms of personal choices! We are not robots. We make our own decisions. God usually seems to be completely aloof from His creation. However, believing that the Holy Spirit indwells each Christian, God works through the Christians, mostly, to accomplish His goal of “Redemption” and assistance of those in serious troubles. Too often, as you know, Christians don’t step in when troubles happen. But, that’s not the way Jesus intended his people to be. We Christians, too often, are not doing a very good job of living the way Jesus intended his people to live! Lord help us! Till next time dog, have a great day!

  • Don’t be too harsh – some Christians do a fairly good job as indicated by, say, the Sermon on the Mount. Mind you – so do some Muslims, some Hindus, I know a wonderful Sikh guy – and even some atheists too. It doesn’t seem to have much to do with being Christian.

    I suspect that part of the Christian problem is that the writings which are alleged to contain the information they need contains so much information that, inevitably, some of it is incompatible with other bits.

    Every, and I genuinely mean every, Christian I have known reminds me of when I was a kid sixty years ago, clutching my six penny pocket money and standing bemused in front of the sweet counter in Woolworths. You know the one I mean – help-yourself, mix-and-match. “I’ll have a couple of those, must have one of them, don’t want that, those taste awful, oooooh…my favourite”.

    And so it went on until the paper bag was full. That’s how Christians, the thinking ones at least, are. I don’t blame them – they have no option to be any other way. Yes – a few try to find a “common thread” – but there seem to be many “common threads”.

    What you see as “the extraordinary power of freedoms of personal choices” I see as an unnecessary complication. If a deity existed who wanted people to be “saved” – particularly one who had proceeded with its Creation knowing that many would not be “saved” – I’d expect it to be trying it’s best to help hell-bound people straighten themselves out. You say he seems “aloof” – it seems to me that if such a being exists its neither caring nor moral.

    I know, I know – some posters here would tell me that God’s a lot cleverer than me and I’ll find out when I’m dead and in eternal torment.

    Maybe – but I really can’t see any good reason to be concerned.

  • “Historically, there is a tendency for Christians not to speak out.” What history are you talking about? Christians fairly dominated western history for the past 1500 years and used their religion to justify all kind of horrors and abominations (as they continue to do today). It would be great if religious people were quiet for once.

  • Don’t care what Pat Robertson would & would not approve as he is not a Christian, but a heretical Calvinist.

  • “she shows in the book how speaking up inevitably means making a few mistakes.”

    Like all the Christians who go around condemning LGBTQ+ people just for existing? Why can’t homophobes keep their mouths shut?

  • They used to say Christians were known for their works and their lives were their greatest testimony. Voting for Donald Trump, what is that about? Your racism, supporting fraud, cheating, abusing and disrespecting women, what’s the best part there of your testimony? Inflicting your religious beliefs on the rest of society through the political process…. is that like the middle ages and the Crusades? Forced conversion, what’s the end game here? You’ll be able to sell more racist books and pyramid power products like snake oil? Is that the goal?

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