The Time is Now
Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31, RSV)
This week we celebrate the 90th anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr. Of those 90 years, he lived only 39. His last fifteen years and his life he gave to the cause of achieving equal rights for African Americans and lifting them from poverty, to fighting racism and injustice. Almost all Americans were distraught and deeply grieved when Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968.
Despite our distress, we recognized the progress that had been made. Many thousands of persons, both black and white, had joined in the movement for equality. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawed many practices used to disenfranchise African Americans. The Supreme Court had ruled that laws requiring segregation on buses are unconstitutional.
By a few years after King’s death, many Americans thought that attitudes in the United States had turned the corner, that the worst of racism was behind us and time and new generations would eliminate this stain from the national psyche.
And yet, the stubborn remnant of racism persisted in our society. And the effects of racism were baked into our economic and legal systems. Poverty among minority groups is related to poorer educational opportunities. Neighborhoods remain effectively, if not legally, segregated. Incarceration rates for African Americans are almost six times as high as for whites, with disparate sentences for similar crimes. Police are more suspicious of minorities.
In recent years, racism has reappeared in our society, in a virulent and sometimes violent form. In Charlottesville, a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of protestors murdering a woman. In Pittsburgh, a shooting in a synagogue killed eleven during a Shabbat service. Some opposition to immigration into the U.S. is based on racial differences of the immigrants.
We Christians, who believe with Paul that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:28, RSV),” know that it is wrong to judge people by the color of their skin rather than the content of their character. Yet, prejudice is difficult to escape. Historian Taylor Branch says, “even though prejudice is widely denounced, many people unconsciously pre-judge others. Unfortunately race in American history has been one area in which Americans kid themselves and pretend to be fair-minded when they really are not.”
Will we work actively to help wipe out racism in ourselves, our neighborhood, and our nation? Or will we silently assume that we are not racist, so it is not our problem? Dr. King, in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, wrote “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” Will we in this generation reclaim Dr. King’s dream and “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:24, RSV)”? The time is now.
Prayer: God, who brought the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt, we pray that You would release all those in our nation who are held in bondage by racism, by poverty, by bigotry, that they may be free to be fully children of God and brothers and sisters in Christ. Forgive us, we implore, for the sins of prejudice and indifference. Give us a renewed commitment to work to realize the dream of a society based on character, not color. In the name of the one who taught us to love our neighbor, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Ministry and Mission Coach – Retired