Silence Is Not An Option

By Gail Song Bantum 3-13-2015 | Series:
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As a preacher and pastor, I have had the privilege of speaking to people from a wide variety of demographics. Especially since I am a woman of color, these opportunities have made me acutely aware of how the silencing of women’s voices — whether imposed upon or by our own choice — has so severely hindered the imagination of men and women in our society.

Time and time again, I’ve heard from young women that I am the first Asian female preacher they’ve ever heard and/or seen. And this absence has a cost. In the stark absence of a woman’s regular presence in the pulpit across the landscape of church life and formation, we are allowing our young women (and men) to walk through this world with veiled eyes and muted ears, incapable of seeing and imagining possibilities for themselves and others.

While we may acknowledge that men and women are equal, I believe there is power in who speaks.

We are often told of what great men have spoken of and, if we’re fortunate, we’re told of what great women have embodied. We too often quote from the pulpit the many words of influential men yet fail to recall or remember a line spoken by influential women.

Over the course of history, society has suggested to women in direct and not so direct ways, that a woman’s word and intellectual discourse are not as valued as the life they might embody. While yes, both are necessary, women are reminded time and time again — whether in our history books, or from the pulpit, or in our social media feeds, or in the classrooms — that people worth quoting throughout time, the people worth reading from, the people whose words and thoughts we esteem and value in the classroom are not women. We are more frequently told of what women have done or how they’ve supported the cause, but rarely are we given sound bites of the many powerful and prophetic truths women have spoken into this life.

I believe to speak is power.

As a preacher, I can’t help but think about Mary, the mother of Jesus, who gave birth to the Word of God, the Word incarnate. This Word spoke forth life from the beginning saying, “Let there be!” Amid Mary’s understandable fear of the seeming impossible and communal rejection, her words: “Yes, be it unto me!” were a re-creative moment in history. Her “yes” was a life-giving utterance, speaking forth the miraculous possibilities in the midst of the impossible. We must remember that God re-created life through the courageous response of Mary’s words.

I believe to speak is power.

To preach Women’s History Month is to acknowledge the many sustaining contributions that women around the world have brought to bear throughout the history of time. To preach Women’s History Month is to speak forth the powerful and prophetic words that women have uttered from the margins. To preach Women’s History Month is to make space for women to preach in any month. To preach Women’s History Month is to share the stories of the women who believed that silence was not an option, who continued to speak with courage even in the face of alienation and death. And, to preach Women’s History Month is to offer the possibility to IMAGINE for generations to come by saying, “Yes, be it unto me!”

To speak is power because when the voices of those who look like us are invisible or rarely heard, the growing fear of the unknown, of scrutiny, of trailblazing, and of vulnerability all too often become our barriers.

As Audre Lorde once spoke:

“For we have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition, and while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us.”

I believe to speak is power.

To speak of our collective [her]story is power.

To speak of our own story is power.

And, to be empowered means that silence is not an option.

Rev. Gail Song Bantum is an ordained minister in the ECC and serves as the Executive and Discipleship Pastor at Quest Church in Seattle.

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