Standing Up to the Bullies (or Horton Hears a Who in Rhode Island)

BullyRhode Island is the smallest state. Because of that, we understand bullying.

We have a little over 1,000,000 residents living in about 1200 sq miles of land. We’re ranked 50th in area, 43rd for population, but 2nd for density.

So, we’re small but we’re in each other’s faces.

Maybe it’s our size, our economic struggles, or the fact that Rhode Island is something of a spiritual desert, but we’ve been getting pushed around a lot lately, bullied by those who see us as a testing ground for issues around separation of church and state.

Our own governor insisted on calling the Christmas tree in our state house a “holiday” tree.

A child atheist won a legal battle to have a school prayer removed from the walls of a Cranston public school despite the fact that it had been painted there for decades.

A student in a Warwick high school was shocked when a mural she’d painted, at the request of the administration, depicting a man’s life from birth to adulthood was modified without her knowledge. The last panel of the mural portrayed the man next to a woman and a child. The vice-principal, fearing this depiction of a traditional family would offend some, had the janitor paint over it in the night. The superintendent of schools reversed the decision but not before it had a chilling effect on all.

Now, the Freedom from Religion Foundation in Madison, Wisconsin is threatening a lawsuit against the impoverished city of Woonsocket if leaders don’t remove a war memorial that was erected in 1921 because it is topped by a cross. And they’ve asked the fire department to remove the firefighter’s prayer from their website.

Hey, troubles come and on the scales of religious persecution, these barely register a blip but Rhode Island is really the canary in America’s mine and everyone else should pay attention.

What bothers me most about these incidents is not that they happen but how the general population reacts when they do.

Rhode Island is 65% Catholic, so many await the voice of Bishop Tobin to tell them how to respond. The head of the Rhode Island Council of Churches, currently Rev. Donald Anderson, representing Episcopalians and main-line Baptists, is another voice the papers and talk radio turn to for opinions. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if these two men ever agreed? They rarely do, so their voices just add to the confusion.

The remaining population of little Rhody is split between atheists, and “other religions.” Fewer than 1% of Rhode Islanders are evangelical so even when we speak with one voice it’s a little like “Horton Hears a Who.”

What are people who are just trying to survive their days to make of this? How can they sort through the public rhetoric and hear the voice of wisdom as she cries out in the streets? It’s no wonder they give up in discouragement and decide to believe there are no answers. They turn from Jesus because they cannot hear Him in public voices.

Matthew wrote: “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9:35-38

Rhode Islanders are often harassed and helpless. Lost in the riptide of political and religious agendas, they strain to hear the voice of Jesus.

Maybe you are that voice.

This isn’t just a Rhode Island issue. Everywhere people live, through the marvel of technology, they can hear loud voices speak on every issue. The good news is that people can hear about Jesus over the airways. The bad news is that the message of Jesus can be distorted by those who are out for personal gain.

The message of Jesus is often lost when delivered through a megaphone.

But there is hope. Look around you. You have family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, and everyday acquaintances. This is your field of harvest. This is the place to which you have been assigned. You are the voice of Jesus for those who know you.

Maybe your voice is small but it can be amplified if it’s backed by a life devoted to and empowered by Jesus.

Do you live a life of obedience? Do you live a life of truth? Do you live a life marked by love for God and love for others? Your words about Jesus will rise above the sea of voices coming at the people who know you. The public rhetoric will become white noise if you will just speak the truth in love to any who will listen.

God chose to send Jesus to a small town in the midst of a small nation that barely counted against the backdrop of Roman rule. The people of this tiny place were besieged by voices purporting to speak for God – the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Zealots, Caesar.

God didn’t erect a giant screen in the sky and play the Jesus movie. He sent His son, as a man, to live among people, work beside them, obey Him completely, and speak His words.

It changed the planet then and it can still change the planet today.

You are the voice of Jesus where you are so you must speak. Don’t worry that you’ll never speak to millions or have your words read across the nations. God doesn’t always work big, He loves to work small.

As a Rhode Islander, we know small but I’ll tell you a secret – Jesus lives here and He’s on the move.

Tell someone. Don’t be afraid. The voice of truth rises above the confusion like a smoke writer in the sky. Some will  ignore you. Some will laugh. Others will look down on you.

But some will look up and see Jesus because you lived and spoke for Him in the midst of those who could see you and hear you every day. That’s your assignment, loved ones. That’s the road Jesus walked and the one we follow Him down.

Being small is no reason not to stand and speak. Don’t let the voice of the bullies rule. You know they don’t get the last Word, so don’t let them silence yours!

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    The Conversation

  1. Amen and Amen. May I be bold and proclaim the Name–Jesus. (Holding up your arms in RI, sister)

  2. Right on! Keep it up, Lori. God is using you there and, the ripples reach further than you know. To God be the glory!

  3. Cathy Baker says:

    Powerful post, Lori. I especially liked:
    God didn’t erect a giant screen in the sky and play the Jesus movie. He sent His son, as a man, to live among people, work beside them, obey Him completely, and speak His words.

    Relationships have never been easy, but they’ve always been necessary — and will continue to be for an eternity.

  4. Bill Alley says:

    Lori, was revisiting research on the Woonsocket memorial cross controversy, a story I covered for news purposes and aired at WINY-AM1350 in Putnam CT when working there back then.

    These days I’m in TX, still have family/friends in RI/MA/CT and keep begging them to ditch the snow and treason and come down to the Lone Star State. We have our problems, too…but I don’t have to shovel snow (occasionally verbal manure needs a heave ho).

    Your mention was left at my MeWe page with a fellow commentator under the heading ‘The Berean Beard’. It’s a Christian site for men (and others) who also happen to appear in life as Yeshua (Christ) did: bearded.

    I co-own an internet radio station in Texas these days, always looking to interview folks who stand out in their walk and life. Absolutely loved your treatise here. Please reach out if you’d like to connect.


    Bill Alley
    KNGY Internet Radio /
    Temple, TX