A time to speak, a time to be silent

It’s not that we’ve never heard these things before. It’s not like we don’t know that when it comes to adoption, ignorant, misinformed, and racist opinions exist. As much as we’d like to think we’ve moved on, that people are finally getting it, that our children won’t have to come up against prejudice and judgement, we’ve gotten enough comments personally to know better. The people in the grocery line, the kids who stare, the parents who don’t know how to talk about it. We have a lot of work to do, and we have the important job of being ambassadors of adoption, little lights of truth, educating and gently showing the world a better way.

So why on earth do we draw attention to ignorant, inflammatory words that someone utters, even if they’re on TV?

This could have been a throwaway moment. This could have been forgotten as soon as it was over, because of course adopted children aren’t “someone else’s problem.” Of course they’re not destined to “grow up weird.” It’s utterly, incredibly ridiculous. Laughable. A pure, simple “what the…?” moment. If you happened to be watching in that moment β€” roll eyes, move on. Nothing to see here.

But then, everyone starts linking to the clip. The adoption community sets it on fire, and now it’s a circus show.

I get that we have to speak up in the face of injustice, and to stand up for the weak. But this? This is just giving power to words that should have had none. By linking to the clip and having all our friends watch it, we’re just joining in 1. Increasing the exposure of these hateful words to more people, and 2. Jumping on the dogpile in judgment of another human being.

In moments like these, is it really better to speak out? (The irony of writing a blog post about how we shouldn’t talk about it isn’t lost on me. I told myself that everyone’s seen it by now so I’m not adding more fuel to the flame, but who knows? I’m probably part of the problem. Aren’t we always?)

It’s the same for words that degrade women in the church, or words that communicate hate and fear to our gay and lesbian friends, or really, any words that tear down instead of build up. The outcry only gives the original words more power than they deserve. When we are silent, when we ignore the ignorant, we are speaking volumes. We are saying their words have no power, their attitude has no place in our discourse.

Let’s keep to our own lane, keep our heads down and keep doing the good work of reconciliation, of speaking adoption-friendly language, of educating others on the hard, worth-it work of healing and wholeness and truth. Let’s show the world with our lives, with our families and with our choices what is true and right and noble. That work is far, far more important, and does much more good, than putting hateful words on display in the name of discounting them. They are discounted when we turn the other way and tell another story.


It’s a balance I’m constantly trying to get right, so I’d love to know what you think. In the face of ignorance, when should we speak out, and when should we be silent?

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8 comments on “A time to speak, a time to be silent

  1. That’s a great question and one I wonder about all the time. It feels good to fire off angry tweets and ranting blog posts, but at the end, do those words do anything? I think the heart of it for me, as in so many things, is not what we do on the internet but in real life. We’re finishing the first round of paperwork in an adoption and we’ve already gotten our share of the idiot comments (“Why would you want to adopt a special needs baby?” or “Can’t you have any more?” or “That baby is going to be so grateful to have you”) and we know it’s only just beginning. But the truth is, I might change a few hearts and minds on the internet, but I know for a fact that earnest conversations, pointed questions or even raised eyebrows at the idiocy are the tools my friends who have adopted use beautifully all the time. They do more than any number of blog entries. I am a fan of online conversations, especially when it comes to finding like-minded bloggers (like you!) but I think there’s a limit to the effectiveness of sharing our responses to these kinds of situations. Thanks for speaking out about not speaking out. πŸ™‚

    • I completely agree that our real-life interactions matter much more than whatever “support” we can drum up online. I’m really not sure how much good we’re doing when we address these sensitive topics on the internet.

      I might feel differently if the words were spoken by a more prominent church leader, someone I thought had real influence or mattered to the Christian/adoption world as a whole. But Pat Robertson? I really think if we ignore him, he will go away eventually. So yes, the real change will come through work done face-to-face, in the context of a real person, inside the fabric of relationship and community.

  2. Caris Adel says:

    I thought about this a couple of weeks ago. Obviously my thoughys are just kind of coalescing around this, but one thing I thought was, I want to speak up when the words of someone else are seriously wounding people. I get that at some point that a line might need to be drawn. But sometime’s ones comments can be a good focus point for a whole movement. I can see why it would prob be wise to ignore PR’s statements. But I also wonder if the reason its striking a nerve is bc he actually does speak for many other ppl, just as DC spoke and represented thousands of similar ppl? I don’t have any direct experience with adoption, but I have friends that do. And one in particular had very hurtful and very misunderstood comments made to her by christian friends about internationaly adopting. I’m sure she’s not alone. But sometimes stuff like this can help provoke dialogue on what it means to adopt, take care of the orphans, that ppl who do that need support, that they aren’t just ‘choosing to get one’ so they are on their own for the $$ involved…..of course the chance is good that ppl will just get entrenched in their views even more, instead of real dialogue and understanding, but isn’t that always the chance? I guess I lean more towards talking about things so that ppl whp don’t usually get a chance to share their story might get to.

    Hopefully that made sense. I’m on my phone in a bumpy car.

    • I get this, Caris. There is plenty of misunderstanding out there, and having a conversation when hurtful things are said can be beneficial. But that’s not what I saw yesterday. I saw reactionary, vitriolic, I’ll-punch-you-back responses. Even ones that were theologically sound. Even ones that made a lot of sense. I just got the feeling that we’re really not doing much good, that we’re preaching to the choir, that we’re really not changing any minds.

      Maybe I’m naive to say that Pat Robertson doesn’t speak for many Christians. He is still on TV, after all, and people are clearly still writing to him for advice. Maybe this should serve as a reminder for how far we really have to go. I’m just not sure the internet is the place to get there.

  3. Ellen Stumbo says:

    While it is true that sometimes it is better to be silent, I do think when you have a recognized figure say such ignorant statements, it is important to step up, be a voice, and educate.

    I will gibe you an example. Recently, Wayne Brady made a joke about Down syndrome that was not kind. The down syndrome community responded and he recently came out with a heartfelt apology. He heard, he listened, he acted. As a matter of fact, I doubt he will ever make jokes like that again and I would not be surprised if we hear of some other connection he develops to the down syndrome community.

    Now, I don’t know how people have responded in the adoption community, maybe the “defending” voice has been an angry one. Still, I do think a collective voice can be very powerful. I do hope he comes to understand how ignorant his comment really was, and that he apologizes, bring in an expert on adoption, and maybe open up some great conversations and realistic information about what it is like to adopt.

    So no, I do not think that silence would have been the right action in this situation, not when his words seem to carry weight and “respect” amongst some people. It is important to confront in a kind way, a respectful way. And hope that he will hear and learn more about adoption, our children, and how beautiful and worthy they are…even if they turn out weird, the dignity of their life is still something we need to defend.

    • This is good, Ellen — helps me see the other side. I think my issue isn’t with the fact of a response — I guess I can see the value in writing letters/emails to the show or to him specifically asking for an apology, educating on adoption issues, teaching respect and dignity. I’m just still not sure the best way to do that is to link to the clip over and over and over again, or post angry responses on a blog (which he will almost certainly never read), or seek to cut him down. I did read some eloquent and wise posts this weekend on the topic, which I appreciated.

      If he apologizes on-air and gives his viewers the other side of the story, I will be grateful to those who spoke up. And I believe it’s worth it to ask him to do so. But given his history of making similar remarks on other topics? I’m not holding my breath.

  4. i’m generally for letting people decide for themselves how to engage. it makes me a little nuts when people pressure each other to speak up! or let it go!, like there’s only one godly way to engage or that we could fully understand another’s motivation for speaking or silence. i think you are right that there is a time for both, and perhaps we aren’t called to discern it for anyone but ourselves.

    • There’s certainly wisdom in that, Suzannah, and I do understand why adoptive parents, and others, would want to call him on the table for his words this time. I think sometimes I just get tired of all the noise, and on my more cynical days I wonder how much good it would ever do. Thanks for reminding me that God works through my silence just as he works through someone else’s words. My desire would be for everyone to decide to engage thoughtfully and with great care… I think just linking to the clip over and over might not be the most effective way to engage, no matter what you think.

      Thanks so much for your thoughts and wisdom.