By Ron Madson and Joshua Madson
WE ALL HEAR voices. The question is: which voices do we listen to and which do we ignore? And more importantly, which voices are so embedded in our “deep heart’s core” that they unconsciously shape our thoughts, words, and actions?
“For more are the children of the desolate than the married wife” (Isaiah 54:1) and “they shall come from north, south, east and west . . .”
(Luke 13:29) While only a child, Malala Yousafzai spoke and wrote fearlessly against the repression of young girls in her Pakistani community who were not allowed to receive an education. For this she was shot in the head by the Taliban. Though she nearly died, she continues her crusade today.
Many in her culture attempted to silence her voice, but she was heard loud and clear in the West—to the point that she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She became a darling in the United States media and was given the full attention of politicians, an adoring nation, and even the US president.
Malala was soon invited to the White House to visit President Obama and his two daughters. Though Malala spoke about the inalienable right for girls to receive an education, she didn’t stay on script. Instead, she started to speak of the victims of another brutality:
“I also expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people.”
After the meeting, the White House reported only that Malala spoke of education for girls.
Just days later another Pakistani girl, 9-year-old Nabila Rehman, gave testimony at a Congressional hearing. She recounted an attack not by the Taliban but by an American bomb that killed her grandmother and injured her—just one result of drone attacks that had already killed at least 178 Pakistani children. Only a few lawmakers showed up to hear her testimony. Then, when a congressional lawmaker introduced a bill requiring that the U.S. military publicly disclose its internal accounting of civilian casualties from drone attacks, the bill couldn’t even get out of committee. Those lives did not merit even a number
“Go and tell this people: ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving . . . make the heart of this people calloused; make their ear dull and close their eyes” (Isaiah 6:9).
What prevents us from being able to see the pain and loss of others? Why are we deaf to their screams of terror? Why do we not feel compassion for the children of these “others” as we do for our own?
It is because we have placed between us a distance greater than geography: a distance created when we pledge allegiance to anything other than the suffering of others. Allegiance to what? Anything! Culture, tradition, nationalism, creeds, partisan politics—anything that causes us to turn a blind eye to the sins of our own party, tribe, church, or nation. When we fall victim to what Marcus Borg calls the “cultural captivity of the church” wherein one’s Christianity is co-opted by one’s culture and nation, resulting in a collective cognitive dissonance that allows us to accept such evils as slavery, grinding the faces of the poor, patriarchal domination, and killing others—all while proclaiming that God is on our side. Stanley Hauerwas described this as the inability to distinguish the “Christian We” from the “American We.” When we cannot see, hear, or feel the pleas of the defenseless, we suffer from an empathy gap and our hearts become hardened.
Jesus spoke for those on the margins of society and against those in power. He spoke for the wretched of the earth—those whom Paul called anawim: the scum, the refuse. Similarly, this column, The Mahan Report, will seek to give voice to the very least of these: those on the margins of society, those who are defenseless, and even those who are our “enemies.” It will report on and unmask those who follow the Mahan creed: converting life for profit (Moses 5:31). Like Malala, we will strive to renounce all forms of taking life for gain; we will speak against any person, nation, political icon, party, or religious institution that in any way oppresses these “little ones.” The voices of the suffering cry out—we only need to be willing to hear them.
This column will parallel the Mormon Worker agenda: espousing what we call Radical Christianity. Contemporary issues will be addressed and activism encouraged. We hope to be the voice for social justice that Glenn Beck warned you against.