If you lived in America in the ‘60s, would you have marched with Martin Luther King? If you lived in Germany in the ‘40s, would you have stood up to the Nazi regime and demanded the liberation of the Jews? When apathy assists an atrocity, the words of the political activist Eldridge Cleaver ring true: “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”
It is often difficult to be moved by an event that does not directly impact us or that we’re unable to see with our own eyes. That’s why when something important happens, it is critical that we not only hear about it—but, if possible, see it to understand its reality. If we can’t be a first-hand witness, we must trust those who are.
In 1955, just 60 years ago, Emmett Till, a black 14-year-old boy, was beaten, shot, disfigured, wrapped in barbed wire and thrown into a river for allegedly whistling at a white woman. His mother famously held a public funeral with an open casket in an effort to confront society with the realities of racism running rampant in the American South.
When it’s hard to get people to listen, we must get them to see.
America in 1965
It has been 50 years since MLK led the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. In the ‘60s, African-Americans were dehumanized with derogatory terms and junk science. Whites employed diluted idioms and semantics to describe the plight of blacks, diminishing the horrific realities of their situation. Using the insufficient and soft word “segregation” masked the reality that, simply because of the color of their skin, humans were beaten and murdered in the streets with absolutely no hope of justice.
Many Americans heard stories about the injustices taking place in the South, but the movement reached a new level of awareness when the realities of tear-gassing and other cruel acts of violence against African-Americans were visibly displayed on the evening news. Having watched these heinous wrongdoings, many previously passive white Americans could no longer stand by. Viola Liuzzo, a white mother of five from Michigan, traveled across the country to demand justice for others, sacrificing her own life while doing so. She was shot by the Ku Klux Klan as she drove several others home from the march.
For those who had failed to listen to the accounts of abuse and misconduct, the reality of discrimination began to sink in as images made their way to the surface.
Poland in 1945
It has been 70 years since the Jews who survived Auschwitz concentration camp were liberated. In the ‘40s, Jews in Europe were dehumanized with derogatory terms and junk science. The Nazis employed diluted idioms and semantics to describe the plight of Jews, diminishing the horrible realities of their situation. What we now know as the Holocaust, the Nazis referred to as the “final solution.” That’s an incredibly soft and insufficient label for something more aptly termed “violent eradication,” “mass murder” or “genocide.”
In 1942, Jan Karski, a Polish freedom fighter, witnessed the extermination of Jews and reported it to the U.N. He also came to America in 1943 in an effort to rouse the nation to take action. Unfortunately, his reports did not elicit the immediate response he hoped for. It wasn’t until several years later, when U.S. soldiers saw first-hand the camps and mass graves, that Americans began to have an appropriately appalled widespread reaction. When pictures of the atrocities reached America, many realized Karski’s first-hand account should have been taken seriously.
We were slow to listen. It wasn’t until we saw that we realized the scope and reality of the tragedy.
America in 2015
Now, it is 2015. In America, as well as many other places around the world, those who are not yet born are dehumanized with derogatory terms and junk science. We employ diluted idioms and semantics to describe their plight, diminishing their horrific circumstances. People call these unborn lives “goo,” “tissue,” “fetuses” or “embryos.” And the elimination of these lives is either described as “a terminated pregnancy” or “evacuating the womb.” Those are incredibly soft terms for the taking of a human life. Those are insufficient labels for procedures ranging from injecting poison into a beating heart to suctioning out a child to surgical dismemberment.
Many have told us the truth of what’s actually happening during these procedures: An eloquent surgeon named Richard Selzer. A former Planned Parenthood director named Abby Johnson. There are dozens of accounts from reporters who have been allowed in the operating rooms over the years. Many of us heard the courtroom accounts about the horrors of Kermit Gosnell’s clinic. Will we take heed of these first-hand witnesses? The pictures are so appalling that they’re difficult to look at and even more difficult to share—but, if history holds, Americans will not be roused until we witness these horrors ourselves.
I pray that as ultrasound technology improves, what happens inside the womb will become clearer, and the end of abortion will draw nearer. But, even if that day is coming, we can't make the mistake of past generations, waiting to witness the atrocity before standing up against it. We also can't miss the opportunity we have now to minister with mercy and grace to those who have had abortions. We have heard the accounts of those who have seen. Those who have been killed cannot speak on their own behalf, but we can speak for them. What we have seen must spur us to act.