Yesterday after school, my 4th-grade daughter was talking about Abraham Lincoln. She recounted the story of how he was assassinated in a theater, by a man named Booth, who jumped to the stage and broke his leg. Impressed, Susan asked her, “Why was he assassinated?” She thought for a moment and then answered, “Because he freed the slaves.”

Out of the mouths of babes. She learned this in school, here in the South. It’s a simplistic answer no doubt, but profound. Others might answer state’s rights, but the bottom line is, the right states wanted was to own slaves. Secession began the instant an abolitionist became president.

As we talked my mind ran to Oscar Romero, also assassinated. I have just this month been to El Salvador. (See recent posts.) Romero was assassinated because he spoke out against injustice, especially on behalf of the government. He spoke out against violence, corruption, systematic oppression of the people, and U.S. collusion in all of this. (In my ear rings something I’ve heard a few times in my short four years in this office: “Bishop, don’t be political. Stick to preachin’.”) Any time anyone speaks out against injustice, those who benefit most from the system are incensed.

Abraham Lincoln
Oscar Romero
Martin Luther King
John F. Kennedy
Gandhi
Jesus

Why were they killed? What is the pattern. Romero, King, Gandhi and Jesus were pacifists. They weren’t a threat to anyone. Or were they?

What do they have in common? They spoke out for the poor. They spoke out against violence and corruption. They challenged systems that kept people trapped. They questioned the status quo.

Now to us. How are you questioning systems that oppress? How are you speaking out against violence? If the system is not putting pressure on you, perhaps you need to speak up, more, louder, bolder. Unless, I suppose, you think the system is fair and infallible.

Why don’t we? You’re not as likely to get assassinated as you would in 1980’s El Salvador? What are we afraid of? The powerful will be mad at us. People will not like us. We risk anger from those benefitting most from the current system. I fear we don’t speak out, no for fear of assassination, but for fear of hard conversations, and loss of status and privileges.

Speak out boldly against predatory lending practices and see what happens. Speak out against our own killing of at least 30,000 children in Iraq and see what happens. Speak out against the racist laws and quotas that keep immigrants out, keep immigrants poor and divide families, and watch what happens.

Just watch.

There is a pattern.

Or just sit quietly and let it go on, while you do nothing. Which is most like Jesus, the assassinated Jew?