Bearing Witness in the 21st Century: When Video Evidence Is Not Enough (After Hurricane Maria)

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A Small Group Reflection for After Hurricane Maria (Puerto Rico 2017)

A truthful witness saves lives, but a deceiver proclaims lies. PROVERBS 14:25
As for us, we can’t stop speaking about what we have seen and heard. ACTS 4:20

Bearing Witness:

  • Testify (literally or figuratively);
  • Charge;
  • Give evidence;
  • Offer record;
  • Have/obtain honest report;
  • Give testimony;
  • To not keep back testimony;
  • Utter honorable testimony[1]

In biblical times, bearing witness relied upon oral testimonies, written scrolls, and a physical transport of materials and information to other people and places. In the 21st century, technology has made it possible for us to document and share every life moment, from celebrations to historical movements, with the click of a button. Technology has been the portal through which our private moments become global and injustices meant to be hidden can come to light. With the advent of cell phone cameras and social media videos, all of us can bear witness to the truths justice demands that we see.

In a very short amount of time three major hurricanes rocked the United States: Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Each hurricane made landfall and did its most destructive work in different areas of the United States: Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico/US Virgin Islands respectively. Yet, coverage about, relief efforts with, and empathy for the victims of each area differed widely. Despite video evidence of the devastation of each area, different people had different emotional reactions, perspectives on responsibility, and motivation for response (or lack of response).

This learning exercise asks us to interrogate our evaluation of evidence and how our pre-judgments influence the ways in which we value some evidence and devalue others. 

LEARNING ENGAGEMENT:

  1. Brainstorm the following: How do you define evidence? What makes something worthy to be counted as evidence? When faced with two different pieces of evidence, how do you determine which piece of evidence should be valued/weighted more heavily?
  2. How does race & racial realities create lenses through which we interpret evidence?
  3. FACILITATOR READS: “Watch the following videos here (Sept 20) and here (Sept 26) about Hurricane Maria and the devastation it wrecked on U.S. soil and in the lives of U.S. citizens.
  4. Discuss what you saw in the video and how it made you feel. [Use the “feeling wheel” for help.] Give people enough time to process – this might include silence, open grieving, sharing in two’s, or other methods discerned best for your group.
  5. Read “FEMA Has Yet to Authorize Full Disaster Help for Puerto Rico” (Oct 10).
  6. Reflect on the following statement: “Once you see, you cannot, not see.” (Dr. Greg Ellison, II) Even though people saw similar videos for Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, some people did not find sufficient evidence to ensure similar disaster response to Puerto Rico as with Texas or Florida. What reasons do you think contributed to those differences? How did race function in how people interpreted what they saw in the initial videos and what motivated them to action (or non-action)

CLOSING REMARKS:

To bear witness to something positions us as bearers of truth. Though we may desire to turn our heads from injustices we see, we must be willing to testify to the truth. As human beings we have a social and civic duty to stand up for justice. As Christians, it is our spiritual mandate. Yet, even our ability to bear witness can be corrupted by sin in the form of ism’s like racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, ableism, or ageism. To truly bear witness, we must be willing to see through the eyes of those who suffer under these injustices most directly. Until we can do that, we will never see clearly enough to bear witness to the truth.

PRAY:

  • for God to comfort the people of Puerto Rico and their family members outside of Puerto Rico;
  • for God to help us see our blind spots to injustice;
  • for God to convict us of our complicity in “isms,”
  • for God to create in us the ability to become faithful bearers of truth.

FEELING WHEEL:

feeling wheel

FURTHER READING:

U.S. response in Puerto Rico pales next to actions after Haiti quake
[1] https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G3140&t=KJV

This resources is written by Rev. Alisha Gordon

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