On Being Silenced and How to Speak Up

Kathy Khang’s new book begins with a powerful personal story of being silenced and speaking up.

There had been some conflict brewing behind the scenes at a staff leadership conference, a conflict that included racial, gender, and cultural dynamics. When the situation was finally brought up on the last night of the gathering, Kathy felt she needed to speak up, to ask why it had taken so long for an update with  little opportunity for staff to process what had been happening and to respond. As she started to speak, a friend sitting beside her reached over and put her hand over Kathy’s mouth.

Kathy writes:

I had been silenced. Literally, physically stopped from speaking up.

I felt embarrassed and deeply ashamed. I was angry and confused, violated and sick to my stomach. I didn’t understand how powerful my words and my voice could be until someone made sure I wouldn’t be heard. (page 17).

Unlike Kathy, I’ve never had someone literally put a hand over my mouth to stop me from speaking, but I’ve experienced silencing in other ways:

  • Being told that my asking about the involvement of people from ethnic minority groups is “inappropriate.”
  • Receiving an invitation to a retreat for “pastors and wives” that obviously did not include me as a pastor along with my husband.
  • Some of my own background, context, and personality that tends toward not making waves, to refrain from asking awkward questions, to let things go for the sake of getting along.
Kathy Khang, author of Raise Your Voice

People who know me might say that these things haven’t actually stopped me from speaking up. And the friend who put her hand over Kathy’s mouth didn’t succeed in silencing Kathy either. As Kathy continues,

As I sat there in the conference leadership meeting that last night, my mouth was covered but I knew the questions had to be asked. I felt the heat of shame in my cheeks and could feel my heart pounding in my head. I moved my friend’s hand off of my mouth, took a deep breath, and continued to speak. (page 33)

This is just one of the many reasons why I love Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up by Kathy Khang (InterVarsity Press, 2018). Kathy shares out of her personal and ministry experience and from her reading of Scripture to offer encouragement and practical guidance on finding your voice and speaking up–not to be disruptive for its own sake, but as she says:

Thank you, Kathy, for this primer on raising our voices–may there be a beautiful chorus in real life and on-line speaking faith, hope, and love. I echo your closing words to your readers and everyone:

God is inviting you into a deeper understanding of who you are in the context of your family, community, workplace, and church. May you test out your voice, make some mistakes, work through the reasons you stay silent, and find courage to speak up. This world desperately needs the good news, and it will need diverse voices from different perspectives. I can’t wait to hear and see what’s next for you!

Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up officially launches tomorrow, July 31, and you can pre-order your copy now!

Disclosure: I gladly volunteered to be part of the launch team for Raise Your Voice, and received a complimentary copy from Inter-Varsity Press. As always, the choice to review and the opinions expressed are my own.

Writing/Reflection Prompt: (from the discussion guide included in the book) If you could make a positive impact on one issue involving your family, community, or the world, what would you tackle? As you develop your own voice and speak up, how can you encourage others to do the same?

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