by Emily K. Hartner
When I was in high school, one of my teachers plastered motivational posters all over the walls of her classroom. These posters—you’ve probably seen similar ones—featured various phrases/advice/sayings alongside photographs of cute little animals. There’s one I remember more than the others: “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” I have no idea what the adorable little kitten in the photo had to do with standing up for my convictions, but the message has stuck with me: stand up for what I believe to be true and important.
It’s easier said than done, of course. Standing up for what you believe in is easy when what you believe is also what’s popular. It gets to be more difficult when what you believe ends up being the dissenting opinion. If you had asked me in high school if I thought standing for my convictions in my 30s would be challenging, I would have laughed—surely I would be comfortable enough in my own skin to be able to plow through all the opinions of other people, as if they were arrows deflected from the shield of my convictions. Yet, here I am in my 30s, still challenged with 1) continuously reevaluating which battles I’m willing to fight, which values and beliefs are worth some sacrifice, and 2) figuring out how best to stand up for them.
Who is willing to take a risk?
The difficulty begins on the playground: “Who’s willing to stand up to the bully?” The challenge can also translate to the classroom. “Who’s willing to risk an incorrect answer?” It can happen in the workplace, “Could I lose my job if I call into question certain corporate policies or speak up on behalf of a fellow employee who is being mistreated?” It’s hard to do in the world: “Will I get arrested if I protest oppression and inequality?” And sadly, sometimes even in the church: “What will my church family think if I disagree with them?”
Standing up for your convictions is not easy because, when it’s the dissenting opinion, it seems that there is always something at risk.
And yet, if we firmly believe what we’re fighting for, then we won’t back down. Will we? If we are true to our baptismal callings, especially the call to work for justice and peace in the world, then we don’t have a choice. Whenever and wherever that peace and justice is threatened, we have a calling and a responsibility to stand up for it.
Ways to stand up for your convictions
If this sounds intimidating to you, then you’re not alone. It’s hard for me as well, which is why I offer a few different ways you might consider standing up for your own convictions:
1. Your voice. We each have a voice. We don’t always think we do, but we do. We have the ability and the responsibility to speak on behalf of that which we hold to be true and of value. My mother has a disability. When I was younger, her voice on behalf of people with disabilities everywhere came first in the form of little slips of paper she would place under the windshield wipers of cars parked illegally (and presumably unnecessarily) in handicapped parking places that informed their owners that they were parked illegally. Later, she used her voice on Capitol Hill, where she advocated for legislation that would benefit people with disabilities.
Write letters to your representatives in Congress. Attend, or even speak up at, a community forum or a congregational meeting. Vote—in big elections and in small ones.
2. Your money. Money talks, whether we like it or not. Sometimes, we get to choose what our money says. If you firmly believe that feeding hungry people is important, then consider giving to an organization that does that. Your money will communicate the message that you believe hungry people should be fed. Other resources will work here, too. Many organizations can use “in-kind” gifts.
3.Your time. Don’t underestimate the power of your time. Is there an organization in your community that does work that you value? Think about volunteering there. Are you unhappy in your job and thinking about changing careers? Is there another career or company that would better reflect your personal values? How we spend our time mirrors what we value.
Standing up for our convictions is difficult, but it is our calling as baptized children of God. Will we sometimes fall short of that calling? Absolutely. But we never fall short of opportunities to reevaluate just what it is we hold to be true and worthy causes, and to try again to stake our lives in that truth.
1. What is one thing you’d be willing to sacrifice people’s approval for?
2. Which do you find easier to use to stand up for your convictions – your voice, your money, or your time? Why?
3. Tell about a time you stood up for something you believed or about a time you failed to do so. What did you learn from that experience? What would you have done differently?
God of truth, you call us to be your hands in this work, but we face challenges that sometimes make it difficult. Renew us in the waters of baptism, and enable us to use our voices to stand for that which reflects your reign on this earth. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
The Rev. Emily K. Hartner has been a pastor at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Charlotte, N.C., since 2010. She and her husband, Ian, also live in Charlotte. In her free time, she enjoys curling up on the sofa with a good book, a cup of coffee, and her adorable French Bulldog, Fiona.
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