(July 17, 2020)

There is a practice in social justice groups known as “call-outs,” whereby members are corrected in front of a group for holding a belief or making a certain reference that is judged to be not in keeping with equity.

I only recently learned about this when multiple loved ones shared their experience of being called-out.

One person was called out for stating “African Americans” instead of “Blacks”; to his knowledge he had only known the former to be politically correct and was surprised to learn the opposite.

Another loved one was on a call with group members and prior to the call starting, she shared with a couple of people her excitement to learn of the gender of her child at her next doctor appointment. A new member to that group happened to join in the call during this sharing and lambasted this person for being “transphobe.”

While I can appreciate that the intent of call-outs are to correct incorrect beliefs, words and actions to better educate and equip someone in the social justice movement, I believe there is a duty for justice among members that is rooted in charity. 

The problem with call-outs is it shames individual members, promotes a punishing form of education executed by self-affirmed “woke” people which is done in a manner antithetical to the mission of social justice and reinforces a toxic environment whereby members walk on egg shells for fear of saying or doing the wrong thing and being called out.

While certain social justice circles might reject religious influence, I believe the issue of call-outs could benefit from the teachings of Ignatius of Loyola and from Jesus, both of whom exhibited a passion for the oppressed.

In his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius included a Presupposition: to “be more ready to put a good interpretation on another’s statement than to condemn it as false” (SpEx 22, Puhl translation).

In the context of a social justice group, Ignatius would ask members to give each other the benefit of the doubt.

Rather than blast someone openly for stating or doing something deemed to be an injustice, Ignatius would counsel one to pause, seek to understand this other person’s perspective, and assume that person is coming from a good place.

Additionally, Jesus taught that if someone commits wrongdoing against you, to go and tell that person about this privately. If this person does not listen, involve other witnesses, and if the person refuses to listen to these third parties, then the issue escalates (cf. Matthew 18:15-17).

The important point to note is the problem is discussed privately: there is no shaming and there is no lording over power.

Two equal parties discuss a matter of harm and the offending party is given an opportunity for reparation and growth. Secondly, third parties and authorities are involved insofar as the offending party is not open to listen; therefore Jesus emphasizes care and mercy over righteousness. 

In practice, putting the two teachings together could look like the following:

Person A: I noticed you made a reference to “African Americans.” I recently learned that people of Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Latinx backgrounds do not feel included in the category “African American,” and therefore the term Black has replaced African American since it is more inclusive.

Person B: Wow I had no idea. Thank you for telling me this, I’ll definitely keep that in mind in the future.

Person C: I heard you express excitement over learning the gender of your child at your next doctor’s appointment, could you tell me more about this experience?

Person D: Truthfully with COVID and everything going on in the world, I have had a really hard time connecting with my unborn baby. My hope is that once I know which name I will be calling my baby, Joseph or Maria, I might be able to better connect with my child.

Person C: My gosh, I couldn’t imagine being pregnant during this crazy time. Please let me know how I can support you, and know that I am here for you if you ever need anything.

In the private exchange between Persons A and B, instead of an accusation, there was information-sharing that was gently offered for consideration.

In the private exchange between Persons C and D, instead of an accusation, there was curiosity around a person’s statement that brought about greater clarification, and rather than using the opportunity as a teaching moment, Person C shifted to a more compassionate response.

Adopting Ignatius’ Presupposition coupled with Jesus’ counsel on charitable correction could lead to healthier dynamics within social justice groups that not only better achieve the intention of the call-out but promote greater dignity and respect within the group.

Often the sting embedded in someone’s call-out might be rooted in anger and pain. Hurt people hurt people.

I believe charitable correction founded on the presumption of good will can better heal a broken group of people who are ultimately seeking to heal a broken world.

More by new Novena US contributor Matt Kappadakunnel:

Before ‘unfriending’, hit the pause button: an Ignatian approach to ideological differences on social media

Done with Dolan: New York’s cardinal is unfit to serve as a Church leader

USA: A house of divided bishops cannot stand against racism

More on Novena on social justice


Matt Kappadakunnel has a background in investment management and investment banking. Additionally, Matt spent multiple years studying to be a Catholic priest. He is a graduate of Creighton University and is a CFA Charterholder. Matt lives in Los Angeles with his wife and toddler, and they are expecting a newborn in November.