Moral Courage by Kelly Brown Douglas


The time for false solidarity is over…Let’s us stop talking about it, let us just dig deep inside of ourselves and find a way to do it. 

Fifty years ago in response to President Kennedy’s assassination Martin Luther King Jr. wrote: “Our nation should do a great deal of soul-searching …” It is these words of Martin King’s that echo in my mind fifty years later as news headlines continue to be filled with stories of innocent young black bodies falling victim to a social climate that nurtures racialized fears and breeds racialized violence. If the deaths of Renisha McBride, Jonathan Ferrell, Jordan Davis, and Trayvon Martin tell us nothing else, they proclaim loud and clear that we are a people in need of a “great deal of soul-searching.”  For me, this time for soul-searching is nothing less than a kairos time.

Kairos time is the right or opportune time. It is a decisive moment in history that can potentially have far-reaching impact. It is often a chaotic period, a period of crisis. However, it is through the chaos and crisis that God is fully present disrupting things as they are and providing an opening to a new future—to God’s future. Kairos time is, therefore, a time so pregnant with Infinite possibilities for new life that it demands a response. It is, in other words, a time bursting forth with God’s call to a new way of living in the world and being with one another. Kairos time brings with it a sense of urgency. For, as pressing as the kairos call of God may be, a response is not inevitable. One can miss the kairotic moment and lose out on the opening for doing something new that the kairos presents. These are urgent times given the fact that the lives of so many of our children (especially those blessed with ebony grace) are threatened by deadly violence because of the  racialized fears and suspicions we might harbor and the laws that allow us to act on them. These times demand from us a response.  And so, how are we to respond to the kairos call of God?

Our response must begin with a “solidarity of peace.” Calls for solidarity, indeed claims of solidarity, have long defined the relationships between feminists and womanists communities. Too often, however,  that solidarity has meant little more than conversations in which we share stories about our particular experiences of being a woman and bemoan the history of our “up and down” relationship with one another. As fruitful as these conversations may be, real solidarity requires much more than talk.  For while conversations may help us to confront our own personal sins in our relationships with one another, they do not necessarily compel us to confront the structural and institutional sins that nurture the violence (systemic and social) which threatens the lives of our children. Neither do these conversations necessarily lead us to renounce the benefits we gain from them. While they may lead to good feelings and heightened awareness, they do not disrupt the social-cultural fabric in which we live and through which some of us benefit.

Solidarity of peace is not about conversation. It is rather about moral recognition, moral courage and moral praxis. Moral recognition means realizing, without being told by those who are victims, when something is wrong even when that wrong does not immediately impact us or our community.  It is about recognizing that an injustice is being done and thus violence is being committed (bearing in mind that any form of injustice is violent).   Moral recognition is realizing that the very lives we lead and rights we claim may indeed contribute to our violent society.

Moral courage is that which is needed to act on our moral recognition. It takes moral courage to speak up, especially when it is not popular to do so. Such courage is especially needed to resist and to give up privileges we enjoy as a result of violent systems and structures; this includes the privilege of remaining silent and doing nothing. It is moral courage that propels us toward moral praxis.

Moral praxis is about living a life and acting in ways that defy and contest injustice. Moral praxis is nothing less than a commitment to being embodiments of peace, that is, justice, as we relate to each other and the rest of creation. It means contesting narratives of violence through the ways in which live and move, and have our being in the world.

The time for false solidarity is over. Renisha, Jonathan, Jordan and Trayvon are the children of us all. If we are to seize this kairos time and respond to the call of God to us, then we must do the soul-searching needed for each of us to forge a solidarity of peace. Let’s us stop talking about it, let us just dig deep inside of ourselves and find a way to do it. As Martin King Jr. said some fifty years ago, “Now is the time.”

Kelly Brown Douglas is Professor and Director of the Religion Program at Goucher College where she has held the Elizabeth Conolly Todd Distinguished Professorship. She was recently awarded The Goucher College Caroline Doebler Bruckerl Award for outstanding faculty achievement. Kelly is a leading voice in the development of a womanist theology, Essence magazine counts Douglas “among this country’s most distinguished religious thinkers, teachers, ministers, and counselors.”  She has published numerous essays and articles in national publications, and her books include The Black ChristSexuality and the Black ChurchWhat’s Faith Got to Do With It?: Black Bodies/Christian Soul.  Black Bodies and the Black Church: A Blues Slant is her most recently released book (Palgrave Macmillan, Fall 2012). Kelly is also a priest in the Episcopal Church and has served as Associate Priest at Holy Comforter Episcopal Church in Washington D.C. for over 20 years.

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Categories: Activism, Body, Community, Ethics, Feminism, General, Justice, Violence, Womanist Theology

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3 replies

  1. To speak out from a loving heart on all fronts does take courage, and can initiate great hope (“I have a dream…”). But sometimes real kindness can be letting go of our rage, letting the wave break and recede on its own. I’m not talking about the grand arena, but today, in our humble lives, just letting go of a difficult memory, for instance, some pain causing understandable resentment, but nevertheless, so we can move forward maybe in a wonderfully productive and gentle and innovative way.

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  2. Kelly, our hearts ache for the deaths of the beautiful children. And while I suspect that most of us do stand and speak for peace, we are but wheat blowing in the wind. Most of us have no doubt chosen an environment where common morality melds with our own, as have I. And sadly we have no measurable galvanizing action to act upon. Dr. King spoke of peace, and worked to get voters registered, a measurable action. Gandhi worked for peace, and marched to remove the salt tax, a specific measurable act. These protests worked because they were specific, and measurable. I just don’t know what specific action, or measurable action, we have now. In theory I don’t doubt that every single one of us agrees with you. We desperately need a new Dr. King to help us find our path for the future. I sincerely pray that the Spirits of all worlds will help us find our way to a lasting and true peace.

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