The Moral Obligation to Speak Truth to Power

Pastor Russell O. Siler (1942-2014)

Pastor Russell O. Siler (1942-2014)


Russ Siler & Honesty

August 24, 2016

Allan Stevo

Being a writer means many projects are left unfinished. Sometimes even at the last moment pieces are left, forever abandoned, deemed by that harsh inner editor to be too inferior in concept or in some other way unworthy of being shared with an audience. Understanding this, it is with great hesitation that I read or share items that the author did not approve the final draft of.

It’s questionable if work should be published posthumously without the author’s permission since it ends up being a glimpse into the author’s soul and creative process that the author perhaps did not intend to share. The ultimate argument is that even in its raw form there is important value to the world.

The Trial by Franz Kafka, The First Man by Albert Camus, Ian Fleming’s The Man With the Golden Gun, The Pale King by David Foster Wallace, The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens, A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway all went to print in versions the author did not finish or approve of.

Below, is the writing of a pastor I met in Jerusalem in 2004, who for many years wrote a love-filled, insightful, and caring email on the situation of Israel and Palestine. It is not common for insight and love to accompany writing on the relationship between Palestine and Israel.

A while after his passing, I received this email from his wife, Anne Siler. At the bottom of the email I have added emphasis to his quote, his powerful quote on the necessity of telling truth to power. In an era where honesty seems so hard to come by, Russ Siler, offers us the moral imperative to speak truthfully and cautions of what danger can be contained in a lie. Though this writing is unfinished, I found the quote and its story too powerful to avoid sharing.
 

Dear Friends, Family and Readers of Russell’s Jerusalem focused letters over the years,

As most of you know, Russell died quite unexpectedly this past December, shortly after midnight Christmas night, on the morning of the 26th. We’d known since his diagnosis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in 2011 that his life would be shorter than we would have liked. He’d had his regular three month check up with the pulmonary doctor just two weeks earlier and didn’t have to return for six months! Good news! Life’s pace had slowed for him, but continued to be full of laughter, stories, and good times and we’d enjoyed a fun filled Christmas family gathering just a few days earlier in our new home.

His passion for Peace with Justice in the Palestinian/Israeli situation never wavered. He’d presented a three session program in October helping people to understand and learn the history and current situation. He often said to me that he wanted to keep on writing the letters. I wondered when I’d read the next one. In retrospect, I realize that it took much more of his energy to live each day than I was aware, Recently, I came across “From America,” a letter he’d started in July 2014. For those interested, an unedited, unfinished draft is below.

Thanks for reading. I know some of you have and others will seek “Peace with Justice” for the Palestinians and Israelis, as well as in all facets of your lives, whether among family and friends, home or world community. It is needed everywhere.

Although grief and loss have colored each of my days this year, I am continually thankful for friends and family, locally, and around the world. Their love, care and support have been needed and appreciated as I’ve encountered the ups and downs of life. It looks like 2016 is filling with trips to visit children, grandchild, friends, attend weddings, etc. Russell’s humor, stories and zest for life will be missed and remembered.

May you and your loved ones enjoy this season and the new year!
 

From America # 1 by Russell Siler

20 July 2014
 

I remember the day as if it were yesterday. I had been summoned to the Dean’s office. There I was informed that I must withdraw the invitation extended to a speaker to address the student body. He was a Baptist minister who opposed the university’s segregationist practices. Fighting to hold back the tears starting to burn my eyes, I took a deep breath, paused for the three seconds that felt like an hour or more, and somehow managed to squeeze out the words, “Sir, I did all that your office asked when I submitted the man’s name. You gave your approval. Now I expect you to keep your word.” His facial expression gave no hint of his emotions, but the silence that followed made my earlier quiet seems as a split second. Finally he spoke, “Very well, Russell, I shall.” And life went on…except I knew that there was at least one man at that school whose sense of personal integrity and responsibility far exceeded the standards of the institution he represented.

For a long time I privately commended myself for the courage I had demonstrated in standing up to practices whose morality I had come to question. Then one day when–for some unknown reason–my pride had taken a day off, the truth came cascading down. I was not the brave one. It was the dean who had shown me what courage and honor looked like. By acting as his honor directed, he risked much of his reputation and standing–perhaps even his position.

Such a brief episode, so long ago. Yet I remember it often when I wonder why people speak and act regarding Israel-Palestine as they do, when they know so much more of the truth than they will admit. The public response to the present bloodletting in Gaza serves again to resurrect that memory.

Few people have as much access to up-to-the-minute details on the situation between the Israelis and the Palestinians as do Members of the U.S. Congress. If senators and representatives do not know the real state of affairs there, it is because they choose to remain ignorant. If religious leaders believe that dialogue is the key to peace and justice in Gaza, Jerusalem, Israel, and the West Bank, they are turning a blind heart to 67 years of history. If those who seek to shape public opinion insist on basing their commentaries on the distortions of history long since consigned to the dustbins of propaganda, they do so knowingly and, likely, with malice.

Two more such opinion pieces prompted me to return again to the keyboard. I have no expectation of making a significant contribution to a resolution to the violence “over there.” I simply could keep silent no longer.

First, I will be unequivocal in my stance that I oppose with all my might the shelling of Israeli civilians by Hamas from Gaza as well as the shelling of Palestinian civilians in Gaza by the Israeli forces. I may understand the motivations well, but I neither approve nor condone the violent actions.

Second, I believe very strongly that when one distorts, ignores, or actually lies about the circumstances of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, that person is not only helping to prolong the carnage and impede a just peace, but is also guilty of gross immorality.

 

Thank you Russ.

The Rev. Russell O. Siler (July 30, 1942- December 26, 2014) was a former director of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s (ELCA) Advocacy Ministries. Siler served as interim pastor of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem from 2003 to 2007 and again in 2010. The congregation is one of six of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. Siler was director of the Lutheran Office for Governmental Affairs in Washington, D.C., from 1997 to 2003 and director of Lutheran Advocacy Ministry in Pennsylvania from 1993 to 1997. Siler was the court-appointed attorney for juvenile domestic relations in district court for Virginia Beach, Va., from 1987 to 1992. Siler received his Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Richmond in Richmond, Va., in 1964, and his Master of Divinity from Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg in Gettysburg, Pa., in 1968. He received his law degree from Antioch School of Law in Washington, D.C., in 1986. Siler served as pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Virginia Beach, Va., from 1988 to 1992, pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Virginia Beach, from 1971 to 1982, and pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Warrenton, Va., from 1968 to 1971.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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