On MLK Day

It was Wednesday, November 8, 2008 when I walked to my table at McDonalds to have a quick breakfast before starting my workday.  It was the day after the presidential election, and at a nearby table the previous day’s election was the topic of conversation.  “Well, it looks like we have a N for president now.  I never thought I’d see it.”  To say that the statement was offensive is an understatement, but I also must admit that it was not surprising.

            I was sitting in an elementary school classroom in 1981 when a Christian African-American police officer entered the school’s office to enroll her son in kindergarten for the following year.  She was taken into the pastor’s study where he explained to her that because of the school’s “Christian” convictions they did not allow black students.  He told her that he hoped she understood why they would not allow her child the same opportunity for education that virtually every other race received.  Indian students, Chinese students, and Pilipino students were all allowed to attend and learn beside white students, but black students would find no welcome.

             Mary (not her real name) was an elderly member of the first congregation I served as pastor.  She was a seemingly pleasant and sweet lady who had a beauty shop in the front room of her home for years.  She was a children’s Sunday School teacher and a faithful church member.  When I knew her Mary suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, and I would frequently talk to her and visit her in her home.  On one such visit she told me that the Saturday before she was passing by the church just as a wedding was ending.  The happy bride and groom were walking out onto the sidewalk, the birdseed was being thrown into the air, and the photographer was capturing the happy moment in pictures.  There was one problem, the couple were African-Americans.  “Michael, I can’t believe we are letting Ns get married in our church now!”  This was in 2005.

            Racism is still alive.  One does not have to look far in our culture to find quiet and not-so-quiet examples of how it still exists in the minds and souls of individuals and institutions.  Racism still surfaces in discrimination of minorities, and racism still surfaces in the way we look at mixed-race couples.  This past year has exhibited many high-profile racial stories that are turned into political talking points, but underneath the 24-hour news channels racism is still real and it still pervades our world.

            I can think of nothing that Jesus addressed more in words and action than this sin of racism.  Talking to the Samaritan woman at the well.  Telling the story of the good Samaritan.  Pointing out that the only leper who returned to give thanks for his healing was a Samaritan.  In all of these are stories we see again and again that our Lord did not adhere to the prejudices of his day but showed the value, equality, and goodness of every person, regardless of their race.

            Over the past few years members of May Memorial have demonstrated great love and cooperation as we have worshiped together with our African American sisters and brothers at Thanksgiving and during the Holy Week services at Mt. Zion Baptist Church.  This past Fall I traded pulpits with Rev. Vera Rhyne, pastor of First Antioch Baptist, an African-American congregation.  One cannot be present at these services and not see the joy and love that exists among all of the worshipers as we worship together, black and white, old and young.  It is a glimpse and taste of God’s heavenly kingdom that re-orders our sinful world according to God’s dream for humankind.

            On this Martin Luther King Jr. day let’s all decide that we will do our part to drive this injustice from our community.  While we may not be able to affect broad sweeping action or reform, we can begin with ourselves.  Don’t listen to a racial joke or keep silent when a racial slur is used.  Have the courage of Jesus and call wrong wrong and allow God’s kingdom to shine a little brighter in our world.