Witnessing in the Public Square
My first few weeks in this position has been spent listening and learning from Giddings Lovejoy staff, team members, and various pastors and congregational leaders. I am also listening and learning from those called to be public witnesses against established ways of being and doing that support and maintain systems of inequity. With the nonstop activities, I wonder about the state of pastoral care for the protesters. Who’s providing them with emotional, psychological, and physical support? What is happening behind the scenes that affirm their efforts to be on the front lines. Watching the protests unfold daily has caused me to relook at one of my favorite biblical passages in 2 Samuel.
In 2 Samuel 21:1-14, we find the story of Rizpah, concubine of Saul. She’s an obscure character stuck in the middle of David’s efforts to secure the kingdom. She comes on the scene as David carries out a request by the Gibeonites. This request is a state sanctioned lynching of seven of Saul’s remaining sons whose dead bodies were left in the streets for all to see. Two of the sons were Rizpah’s. As a widow, Rizpah was already in a vulnerable position. So, what will happen to her for she is now a widowed concubine with no sons?
Rizpah takes refuge in the public square as she squares off with David. She takes up her mantle and becomes a symbol of resistance against murder, intimidation, and the public display of disrespect. Her vigil over the dead bodies is a visibly act of protest. It is a testimony given in silence. Scholars write that Rizpah is someone who “redeems the conscience and the soul” of her community and people. She is “a courageous bold woman who stands in solidarity with the dead and who hold the ‘powers to be’ accountable for their actions. And her protest is not a one-day event, but it lasts for months.
Although Rizpah is alone in the public square, she is not alone. There is no way a person can engage in a disruptive sit-in without community support. Who feeds her while she’s out there? Who cleans her clothes? Who continues the work she is not able to do while holding David and other officials accountable for their actions? Who makes sure that she is safe while out in the public square alone? Or is she alone?
Protesters need community support. They need not only prayers, but other acts that will sustain them while they seek the justice that God requires. What are we doing within our homes, our congregations, and our jobs that supplements the work being done in the streets? Whether we agree with the protests or not – what can we do as a presbytery to engage the issues being addressed that are part and parcel of the St. Louis’ legacy?
Rev. Vanessa Hawkins
Designated Associate Presbytery Leader