Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today, we honor and pay tribute to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as the leader in the American Civil Rights Movement and a proponent of nonviolent civil disobedience.

Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address dedicated a portion of the battlefield as the final resting place for those who here gave their lives that the nation might live. He said, It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.

As we gather on the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington and the transformative “I Have a Dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I am pressed to ask myself how can we pay tribute to such a man and the thousands who risked their very lives to stand with him.   

In his speech Dr. King acknowledged that 100 years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, Black men and women were not free and the promise of our nation was not a reality for people of color in our nation.

My faith demands that I acknowledge that 50 years later we still do not live in a nation where freedom and justice are provided for all.  We live in a country where justice is not blind, and the poor and people of color do not receive the same justice as the wealthy and the white. 

We live in a state where there is great disparity and inequity, and where the economic systems, both private and public, are twisted in ways that benefit the affluent and keep many of our citizens trapped in poverty and hopelessness. 

We live in communities where violence, crime, and mass incarceration are the result of our failure to provide education, opportunity, and a sense of hope for the all our citizens. We still act like some of our citizens do not matter. 

At the core of Dr. King’s speech was a sense of urgency.  He spoke for those who were tired of being told to wait for freedom and justice, when entire generations of their families lived under oppression. The March on Washington signaled a moment when a people said “now is the time.”  It was a critically important moment in a process which led to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Has our country made progress in providing freedom and justice for all our citizens?  Surely, we have.  But perhaps the greatest danger we face as we celebrate the anniversary of this historic speech, is to believe we have arrived.  In many respects we have only begun the journey toward justice. 

Fifty years ago a movement for freedom and justice was launched.  Our task is to pick up the torch in our generation and continue the march toward justice for all people.  This is the only meaningful way to honor Dr. King’s legacy and to pay tribute to his memory.  I believe we can and we must do better.  Now is the time!
I shared these remarks at the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the 1963 March on Washington and the I Have a Dream! speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. held today at the Missouri State Capitol.  A slightly longer version was also published on Churchnet's Word&Way page this week.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Listening for Justice

I am serving as President of Missouri Faith Voices, an ecumenical and interfaith network of congregations seeking to address needs and justice issues in their congregations and communities across our state.  Missouri Faith Voices is a part of the PICO national network of faith-based community organizations assisting congregations as they put their faith in action in their communities.  PICO stands for “People Improving Communities through Organizing.”  Churchnet is committed to helping congregations engage their communities as they seek to share the hope they have found in Christ.

This past week I had the privilege of participating in the PICO National Leadership Training event at a retreat center in Los Altos, California.  It was a wonderful time of learning and growing as leaders from across the nation shared about their faith, their communities, and the needs God is helping us to see with fresh eyes.  The Community Needs Ministry Team at First Baptist Church in Jefferson City where I am a member is currently involved in a “listening campaign” as we seek to hear from individuals in our congregation and community about needs and concerns.

What do you hear when you “listen”?  The fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman last year in Sanford, Florida, brought racial issues back to the forefront of our national discussions.  As tragic as the shooting was, we need to have the conversation.  Our nation has a painful heritage of racial injustice which has its roots in hundreds of years of slavery and incredible brutality. 

While the Civil War brought an end to the institution of slavery, it did little to deal with the generations of pain, fear, anger, and distrust between the races in our nation.  For nearly 150 years since the slaves were freed millions of African Americans have continued to experience repression and at times oppression economically, educationally, politically, and through our criminal justice system.

While I was attending the National Leadership Training last week, I had the opportunity to see the powerful film and tragic story of “Fruitvale Station.”  It is the true story of Oscar, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident, who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family, and strangers on the last day of 2008.  Oscar was killed by a BART police officer in another tragic clash of races in our nation.  It is a story repeated way too often on the streets of our nation.  I was moved by the film.
Two days later, Ryan Coogler, writer and director of "Fruitvale Station," met with those of us attending the National Leadership Training.  I had the privilege of hearing his story and talking with him about the powerful message of his film.  He is an incredible young man.  He indicated that he hoped the film would help our nation look at the issues of race with fresh eyes.  

While some progress has been made, we still have a long way to go.  Why should a white person feel ill at ease when they meet a black person on the street?  Why should a black person distrust someone they do not know just because they are white?  How do we overcome the fear, hatred, and anger that lead to these tragic events?  Obviously, there are no simple or easy answers, but if there is any group who ought to be seeking answers it is people of faith.  Somehow we need to find the courage to have real conversations about racial issues with our congregations.

People of faith need to stand up and lead the efforts to help our nation heal its brokenness as we learn to understand and trust one another.  I remember singing the song as a child:  Jesus loves the little children—all the children of the world.  Red and yellow, black and white—they are precious in his sight.  Jesus loves the little children of the world.

Churchnet has copies of a documentary about Baptists and Racial Issues produced by the Baptist Center for Ethics.  It is a helpful resource to help congregations begin their discussions about these difficult issues.  Free copies are available for your church.  I hope you will encourage your church to have a conversation.  Are you listening for justice?

This is a slightly longer version of an article written for a Word&Way issue.