Friday, April 8, 2011

Speaking Truth to Power

Jesus of Montreal
One of my favorite movies about the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus is Jesus of Montreal, directed by Denys Arcand. The movie is an unorthodox retelling of the story of Jesus. (For my review of this movie, please click on "Other Stuff". Click "Home" to return to main page.)

During Lent, it is worthwhile to reflect on a scene in the film from the trial of Jesus before Pontius Pilate. Does the trial of Jesus have anything to say to us in the 21st century?
"Jesus before Pilate"
courtesy of

Pilate is a man of political and military power. Pilate bluntly tells Jesus that he holds the power of life and death over him. Yet, despite this tremendous power, Pilate is insecure. He seeks the wisdom of Jesus, a man he perceives to be without power. He philosophizes about mortality and immortality, trying to draw Jesus into debate. He asks Jesus, “What is truth?” The scene makes clear that power and truth are not synonymous.

In the Gospel accounts, Jesus is on trial before Pilate precisely because he spoke the truth to power. In his ministry, Jesus confronted the Jewish religious authorities through his words and works. He became indignant when he saw injustice. Jesus demonstrated that those in power do not necessarily possess truth.

Jesus spoke the truth to power; the cost was his life.

Speaking truth to power in today's world
The phrase, “speaking truth to power,” originates with a Quaker pamphlet published in 1955 that responded to the Cold War. (Read the original pamphlet at

There are many examples in today's world of people speaking truth to power. Recent events in the Middle East and North Africa illustrate the effects of speaking the truth to power. For example, in Egypt, the collective voice of peaceful protest was successful in removing a long time ruling regime. The unfolding chaos in Libya is an example of the grave risks citizens take when they begin to speak the truth to power.

Protesters in Egypt
In Latin America, peasants and indigenous people, with the help of international non-governmental organizations, speak the truth to power in order to protect their rights to land and food sovereignty. In North Honduras, The United Peasant Movement of Aguan successfully lobbied for 10,000 hectares of land for impoverished peasants. (Information from The Development and Peace 2009-2010 Annual Report, which can be accessed at:

Speaking truth to power as a form of discipleship
As followers of Christ, we are each called to speak the truth to the powers that bind people. There are numerous way to do this, and they will be different depending on each person’s gifts, sensibilities, situation and call from God.

In the spirit of Lent, we can ask ourselves, “Where can I improve my discipleship in speaking truth to power?"
As a follower of Christ, do I affirm the dignity of each person?
• Am I aware of the power of hopelessness on the homeless, the mentally ill, and the lonely? Are there ways I can help?
• Do I speak out in social situations against the power of destructive attitudes, like prejudice, racism, and sexism?
• Do I allow the power of selfishness to dominate my life?
• Do I have the courage to speak the truth to family and friends about personal matters?
As a follower of Christ, do I promote social justice? 

• Do I engage in efforts to alleviate poverty at home and abroad?
• Do I support the activities of organizations that work to create greater global justice?
• Do I inform myself about the local situation, analyze social policy, and try to make a difference?
As a follower of Christ, do I exercise proper stewardship of creation? 
• Do I reign in my desire for material things or have I become a victim to the power of consumerism?
• Do I monitor my use of natural resources or am I more interested in the power of convenience?

Like Pilate, we too might ask, “What is truth?” We are much luckier than Pilate; we have over 2000 years of Christianity and reflection on the life of Jesus to help us ascertain truth, and to discover our own unique way of living in truth. Like Jesus, may the content of our lives speak truth to power.

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