Faithful minister, brave prophet, unshakeable activist—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a national hero. His legacy isn’t just for the Black community. It’s for us all, especially those of us in the Christian faith community. King didn’t just fight for the rights of Black Americans; he fought for a more just America. We all benefit from that.
Yet, today, I cannot say that the magnitude and momentum of the Civil Rights Movement have carried us into the future that King and his companions imagined. We still see disparities in income and education along racial lines. Discrimination happens in schools and businesses and government. Many are calling the modern criminal justice system the new Jim Crow. Justice for all has clearly not arrived.
You don’t have to search hard to find evidence of that. You can see it in the streets, on the makeshift signs and T-shirts declaring “Black Lives Matter.” You can hear it in the sobs of mothers who’ve lost their sons to unexplainable violence. You can feel it in the rhythmic chants of the crowds, “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe! I can’t breath!” You can smell it in the evening air, polluted with tear gas and smoke. You can taste it every time the words Ferguson, indictment, unarmed, or hoodie come off your lips.
The purpose of peaceful protest is to expose injustice. In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, King wrote, “Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with.”
There’s an opportunity for all of us in America to see and deal with the systemic issues of racism and injustice that people of color have been fighting for decades. It’s time for us to join our brothers and sisters on the journey to racial reconciliation, not just because it’s popular now, but because we want to cultivate shalom in our communities.
I don’t know where you’re coming from. Maybe you’re frustrated by the inconvenience caused by protests, marches, and die-ins. Maybe you’re disturbed by a few instances of vandalism and looting. Maybe you’re close to the law enforcement community and sympathize with the complex decisions cops have to make every day to keep themselves and us safe. Maybe you just don’t get what all the fuss is about.
If you’re critical of or confused about conversations and actions taking place, take some time to listen. Check your assumptions with humility and be willing to open yourself up to hearing different perspectives from people whose life experiences are different than yours. Understand that “Black Lives Matter” does not somehow mean other lives do not matter. We are all loved by God. When one part of the body suffers, we are called to suffer together.
If you’re ready to get involved in the fight for racial justice, you should know that it’s going to require something of you. Seek to develop new cross-cultural friendships. Build trust with others and take the posture of a learner. Visit a church or meeting where you’re in the minority. Go see the new film Selma and dialogue about it with others. Be on the lookout for events in your community that create space for people to share their experiences with racism.
In his letter, King gives us a warning. “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.” These words ring true today just as much as they did 50 years ago. Don’t stay silent. Don’t let your church stay silent. Don’t let your fellowship stay silent. Don’t communicate to the world that God is silent.
For more on racial reconciliation, check out these resources: