I have been examining the conflict that had been ravishing this board since Rick Warren's announcement. There is righteous anger. There is bitterness at the unfairness of this process. There are understandable feelings on betrayal. And all of it is something that I can understand and appreciate as someone who is for full equality of all citizens.
In this reflection I have gone into my own self reflection about the Civil Rights Movement that has brought us to this moment where we are about to swear in a man of color on January 20th. Just a year ago I doubted Obama had much of a chance. Not in this country. White people weren't ready. It would take more years for this to happen. I always thought that someone of hispanic orgin would get it before a black person. Or a woman. But I felt that the nation wasn't ready for it. That maybe we would never be ready for it.
I have never been so glad to be wrong in my life. I have never felt so much thankfulness for being able to see it when many of my family and friends who went through the struggle are dead and gone. Where my grandfather was a sharecropper who had to escape from a lynch mob and ran up to Washington D.C where he built his own house to raise a family. To be two generations removed from that and have a black president is absolutely astounding. And to find my gay brother and sister hurting at the same time is humbling knowing the the struggle still goes on.
So it was with this reflection I go back to the beginning of MLK's journey. After he had one his first victory with the Montgomery Boycott that had lasted for most of the year.
Martin begins his sermon with the famous biblical tale of the Hebrews coming out of Egypt and the story of the Civil Rights movement in Ghana. He weaves together the tale of the Hebrews with those in revolt in Ghana. He talked about how Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah became the leader in his nation through civil disobience. Of his jailing and how his stance created the movement that freed them from British rule.
Martin then goes into his own movement and what is important.
Now I want to take just a few more minutes as I close to say three or four things that this reminds us of and things that it says to us—things that we must never forget as we ourselves find ourselves breaking aloose from an evil Egypt, trying to move through the wilderness toward the Promised Land of cultural integration. Ghana has something to say to us. It says to us first that the oppressor never voluntarily gives freedom to the oppressed. You have to work for it. And if Nkrumah and the people of the Gold Coast had not stood up persistently, revolting against the system, it would still be a colony of the British Empire. Freedom is never given to anybody, for the oppressor has you in domination because he plans to keep you there, and he never voluntarily gives it up. And that is where the strong resistance comes—privileged classes never give up their privileges without strong resistance.
Power never gives up anything. It is why it is powerful, it does not want to share. This goes from gay rights struggle to economic equality. It is a fight. It will always be a fight. It is maddening and make one angry. Injustice is supposed to make one angry. But it is not suppossed to make you hate your oppressor. Martin explains:
This is the thing I’m concerned about. Let us fight passionately and unrelentingly for the goals of justice and peace, but let’s be sure that our hands are clean in this struggle. Let us never fight with falsehood and violence and hate and malice, but always fight with love, so that when the day comes that the walls of segregation have completely crumbled in Montgomery that we will be able to live with people as their brothers and sisters.
Oh, my friends, our aim must be not to defeat Mr. Engelhardt, not to defeat Mr. Sellers and Mr. Gayle and Mr. Parks. Our aim must be to defeat the evil that’s in them. And our aim must be to win the friendship of Mr. Gayle and Mr. Sellers and Mr. Engelhardt. We must come to the point of seeing that our ultimate aim is to live with all men as brothers and sisters under God and not be their enemies or anything that goes with that type of relationship. And this is one thing that Ghana teaches us: that you can break aloose from evil through nonviolence, through a lack of bitterness. Nkrumah says in his book: *"When I came out of prison, I was not bitter toward Britain. I came out merely with the determination to free my people from the colonialism and imperialism that had been inflicted upon them by the British. But I came out with no bitterness."* And because of that this world will be a better place in which to live.
Martin ends on a rather poignant note when you think about where we are today fifty one years later.
Moses might not get to see Canaan, but his children will see it. He even got to the mountain top enough to see it and that assured him that it was coming. But the beauty of the thing is that there’s always a Joshua to take up his work and take the children on in. And it’s there waiting with its milk and honey, and with all of the bountiful beauty that God has in store for His children. Oh, what exceedingly marvelous things God has in store for us. Grant that we will follow Him enough to gain them.
And as I sit here today and think on Martin and the struggle he went through until his death I cry knowing he never saw it. He never got a chance to see what a difference he made in my life, in my parents life, in my siblings life, in my communities life.
He, and millions of others, made our life better for us to enjoy. And he did it with some bitterness in the end, some frustration towards his oppressors, anger over dead friends and the injustices toward his people. But he did it out of love, even to those who bombed his houses and killed his friends. He wanted to build a community with those who wouldn't even call him by his title of Doctor. It the ignorant bigots and the clueless allies. And here we are today. He wanted them to be a part of his beloved community, he just wanted their evil ways gone.
That may be too close to Warren's "Hate the sin, love the sinner" but I think it is accurate. This doesn't mean compromising your rights or stop fighting for them. It doesn't mean not calling out evil when you see it, no matter if it comes from a President Obama or a bigot like Warren. What it means is we have to be better. We have to be more forgiving. We have to be the symbols of what tolerence should look like. Not subjucation, but action made out of love for fellow human beings.
James Baldwin once said that he felt as sorry for the bigot as he did for himself because he knew they were as trapped in their roles as he was in his. Let's try to free each other. And if that sounds naive, well then I guess I'm naive, but I think that love is more powerful than hate. And fighting out of love can change the world.