What is Going on in the Region?

July 1 – The Unheard – Rev. Mark Thompson

“The Unheard” – Rev. Mark Thompson










Which place would you rather live?  The answer is obvious.  One is a place we would love to visit and one would create anxiety and fear.  The place you would love to visit was once home to the people now living in dwellings that would not pass housing codes.  I visited these places on a study tour to South Africa, the most unequal place in the world.  The people living here were displaced for no other reason than skin color. They were forced into this life by a government influenced by the church.  I heard the explanation when we visited Stellenbosch University.    Stellenbosch University was established by the Dutch Reformed Church.  While there, it was explained that it was taught in their school that the people of Africa were not Christians and their lifestyle proved God did not love them, so therefore, they could be treated however badly you wanted to treat them so, they were treated badly.  This mindset and theology led to apartheid.  This is EVIL.

While we were in South Africa, there was rioting.  I am aware of the quote from Martin Luther King Jr. “A riot is the language of the unheard.”  I didn’t quite understand.  I do not support rioting.  I don’t like it.  I don’t support it.  I do now, though, understand it.  Why would a group of people destroy their surroundings?  Why would they vandalize their own community?  What leads to rioting?  Most importantly, how do we stop it?  Please know, this is in no way a support of rioting and merely my understanding of why they happen.

A few years ago, as pastor, I asked my congregants to take a different route to church for the evening service.  I asked them to go to the places in the community that they usually don’t think about or simply avoid.  I offered a few locations for them to drive through on a bright, sunny Sunday afternoon.  When it came time for evening service, I was anxious to hear the comments of those in my congregation.  I was hoping to hear how unaware they were of the living conditions of the poor and neglected, but I didn’t hear any such thing.  No one went.  No one went out of their way before coming to church.  They drove the roads they knew and drive every day.  They avoided the parts of town they don’t want to think about or acknowledge.  They did not see, they did not hear the things that move the heart of God in these places.  The places are destroying themselves and go unnoticed as they do so, until they make the news.

In South Africa, the people who live on the waterfront do not drive out of their way to see those living without running water. Those living in the penthouses do not hear the cries of those living on dirt floors.  Those living in gated communities do not know the insecurity and fear of living without the protection and comfort of proper law enforcement.  People are raped and killed every night as they attempt a bathroom trip to the public outhouses.  Their names do not register the news.  When people are left to live in such fear and anxiety, without anyone listening, they speak in the only language others can hear.  The only way for the rich who never go to the community of the poor to be made uncomfortable enough for their lives to be effected is if those living in cruel conditions act in ways which make them hear.  The riot will change the day of the rich and for at least one day, you will know we exist.  It will make them reconsider their day out shopping.  It will make them talk about it to someone else, which is something that would not happen otherwise.  Again, I will stress, the conditions people were forced to live in were based solely on skin color.  Some parts of town were outlawed to even walk down the street due only by the shade of skin.  These dwellings were only to be temporary, which has now turned in to decades.  Apartheid has ended in South Africa.  The effects linger to the point where it seems it truly did not.

I would like to reflect on Nathan’s approach to David in 2 Samuel 12.  Nathan approaches King David cautiously because David has shown he is not above killing someone to hide his sin.  Nathan presents the argument from the lesser to the greater.  If David is outraged over a lamb, how much more outraged should he be over the man he had killed?  I am hopeful that if you can recognize how evil the actions were in South Africa, then maybe you can begin to see what is happening in this country.  I realize the explanation I have shared with you today about apartheid in South Africa is an obvious example of systemic racism where the guilty have already admitted their guilt, though the evil still exists.  I want you to be aware that many of the teachings which fed this racist hate were taught in our churches in this country as well.  I have seen pictures of KKK members standing on church steps with crosses on their robes.  We have property deeds in this state which prohibit the sale of property to any person of color.  I have heard pastors tell racist jokes.  The same evils exists around us.  Will we drive out of our way to see those forgotten?  Will we recognize in our hearts that God loves all people?  In doing so, will we listen to the voice of the unheard?  Rioting is wrong.  So is the system that created the atmosphere which leads to the feeling that the only way to be heard is through violence.  God told Moses in Exodus 3 that He has seen the misery and heard the cries.  God is listening.  As He did Moses, He calls us to respond.