“A voice out of Bethlehem two thousand years ago said that all men are equal. It said right would triumph. Jesus of Nazareth wrote no books; he owned no property to endow him with influence. He had no friends in the courts of the powerful. But he changed the course of mankind with only the poor and the despised. Naïve and unsophisticated though we may be, the poor and despised of the 20th century will revolutionize this era. In our “arrogance, lawlessness and ingratitude,” we will fight for human justice, brotherhood, secure peace and abundance for all. When we have won these-in a spirit of unshakable nonviolence-then, in luminous splendor, the Christian era will truly begin.”
These are the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that conclude his essay entitled “A Testament of Hope.” It was published posthumously and became the title of a classic collection of Dr. King’s works edited by James Washington.
Like many great men and women of history, Dr. King is quoted often for his wisdom and insight into the human condition. His ability to understand the souls of humanity to call out the racism imbedded in society led to his assassination in 1968.
Dr. King had hopes and dreams of a world as it could be, as it should be. He recalled transforming hope in Jesus of Nazareth and the power that came not with property and position, but the poor and despised that followed him, that wanted more from society.
Most of us who attend this church, or perhaps who will read this post are not poor and despised. We are privileged. If we hope for “the Christian era to truly begin” as Dr. King spoke, then we of privilege will have to discover new ways of humility. I am not suggesting that we do not try. I am suggesting that we too often do not recognize the barriers that we ourselves place in the pathway of others. A place at the table does not often mean an equal voice. An opportunity to advance is not the same as the support to succeed. A willingness to accept a person for who they are does not equal friendship, or treatment as a colleague.
White Protestant liberals too often equate talking about or thinking about an issue as knowledge or experience. Yet, our knowledge and experience are not tested in the course of deep relationships and a willingness to learn about our own bias. We quickly move to places of comfort to avoid the feelings of unrest that accompanies conversations of race and equality. We are caught in a conundrum of wanting to do what is right and struggling to do so.
I am not old enough to remember the civil rights movement and the person of Dr. King. My knowledge comes from the variety of histories written about the moment. The idea of white and color restrooms and water fountains seem like something from another world. Yet I have witnessed at our church the self-segregation at fellowship hour when our Samoan brothers and sisters had a 1:00 worship service. I have seen interns of color overlooked during the passing of the peace. We still have much work to do.
If we hope for “the Christian era to truly begin,” then let it begin with us. As we honor Martin Luther King Jr., let us examine our hearts and release to the forgiving grace of God anything that stands in the way of divine love flowing to all people. Let us open ourselves to the Spirit of God to convict our souls, to change our minds and to free our spirits of anything that would cause us to sin against another person.