I’m pleased to publish this piece from Michael Graham. It’s a bit meandering, but what it does well is define terms, place the debate within a broader context, and walk through the steps of the argument needed to understand the issue and make the necessary points. One of the difficulties with things like the NFL flag protests is that there’s a hundred different things influencing the story and many of us do not take the time to understand those contributors factors. Michael’s piece is very helpful toward that end.
It has been painful to watch the division of our country over the last week. It isn’t that the divisions are new but they are more flayed open and raw. Equally painful to the division is the lack of communication that is taking place. Because of the importance of these questions and the history that stands behind them, it has been difficult for the respective sides of the debate to trust each other enough to have an honest conversation. Thus if we are going to be capable of that sort of trust, we must first gain a better understanding of the many different things feeding into this debate.
1776 – The United States Declaration of Independence – “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Every American should desire that all other Americans be able to exercise the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. When these rights are encroached or transgressed we should seek prudent reforms that seek equity.
The Declaration continues,
“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.”
We declared our independence from the King of Great Britain for the injuries, usurpations, and tyranny over the American colonies. The Declaration makes it clear that governments require the consent of the governed and that the rights of the governed pre-exist the government itself because the rights are God-given and inalienable.
1787 – The United States Constitution and the Rights of Citizens – Our foundational principles are important for establishing the rights of citizens as they relate to one another and to the state. This means we promote individual property rights (5th Amendment), freedom of speech (1st Amendment), and prohibition against unlawful search and seizure (4th Amendment). These rights are guaranteed by our laws and foundational documents but often have to be fought for culturally, ideologically, and legally.
The history of our country’s formation is one of rebellion against the structural injustices of the King of Great Britain.
- Denial of important laws needed for “the most wholesome and necessary for the public good”
- Denial of important laws to create districts and legislative bodies
- Denial of representation
- Obstruction of laws to allow naturalization of foreigners
- Denial of laws establishing property rights
- Denial of laws for judiciary powers
- The keeping of occupying British military forces during peacetime
- The cutting off of trade with all parts of the world
- The imposition of taxes without our consent
- The deprivation (in many cases) of the benefit of trial by jury
- The transatlantic transportation for trials for pretend offences.
The list goes on and on.
The bottom line is the King abused his power and monopoly of violence to oppress the American colonies and so we declared our independence and had to go to war to secure that independence. This is undisputed American history.
It is striking when fellow conservatives deny the existence of structural injustices when our very country was founded to end significant structural injustices.
For the purpose of clarity let me define the term structural injustice. Structural injustice is the misuse or abuse of large scale institutions against individuals, groups, or other structures or institutions. It often involves inequitable arrangements between the powerful and the vulnerable.
In the instance of the American colonies, the British government engaged in numerous inequitable arrangements with the colonies and exercised their power (monopoly of violence in this instance) to secure the inequities.
There are other modern examples of structural injustices.
Abortion – Roe v. Wade made abortion a federal issue in the United States giving mother’s unilateral rights over the unborn. If the unborn are persons (and there is good scientific, moral, and theological reasons that they are), then they ought to possess the same right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that the born already possess. If the unborn are persons, it is difficult to think of a grouping of people who are more vulnerable and powerless. Unraveling the abortion ball of yarn is beyond complex – it would likely need the following tumblers to magically align:
- The retirement or death of an abortion-promoting judge
- A pro-life president (SCOTUS nomination)
- A majority pro-life Senate (SCOTUS confirmation)
- A suitable test case is heard and is adjudicated that challenges Roe v. Wade in some critical/foundational way
- Now abortion is a state issue again and you have 51 balls of yarn to unravel.
Even if the majority of Americans were against abortion in all or most circumstances, there are still incredibly complicated, frustratingly daunting, and improbable battles to be fought to deal with the inequity and injustice.
Chattel Slavery – Chattel slavery is the system by which individuals are able to own, purchase, and sell other humans as property without any remuneration given to the human slave. It should be eminently obvious how this is an example of systemic injustice. It took William Wilberforce a lifetime of costly efforts to outlaw this in Great Britain and a Civil War in the USA to end the system.
Other Forms of Slavery
Human trafficking – vulnerable persons taken advantage of by more powerful persons for financial gain, commodifying things that should not be commodified.
Sex trafficking – vulnerable persons taken advantage of by more powerful persons for financial gain, commodifying things that should not be commodified.
Child soldiers – vulnerable persons taken advantage of by more powerful persons for violent gain.
Despots – Consider for a moment a survey of despots from the last 20 years – Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong-Il, Kim Jong-Un, or Muammar Gaddafi to name a few; tens or hundreds of thousands dead in each of their regimes. Consider how many people were all of the same mind that they wish to rid themselves of such despots yet often there wasn’t enough power among the people to unravel the evil systems. Consider the deathworks of Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Mao, or Pol Pot – whole systems of death designed to centralize power, eliminate the weak, and kill enemies of the state. The body count of each of those regimes are in the millions and some in the tens of millions. Consider how much coordinated global effort it took to dismantle these deathworks and systemic injustices. We are still dealing with the consequences of these things today.
Religious Persecution – Unlawful imprisonment. Rape. Torture. Horrific murders. These atrocities happen globally on a daily basis. There are no shortage of people who are vehemently opposed to such things yet 2016 was said to be “the worst year yet” for the persecution of global Christians.
The Common Denominator of Systemic Injustice
The common denominator of systemic injustice is sinful humans working together in a fallen and broken world and building edifices, institutions, governments, organizations, and economies based on sinful ideas, principles, or actions. The trellising and the vines often grow in rapid and complex ways that make their removal increasingly complicated and costly.
There are obvious systemic injustices in the Bible. The most obvious of these is the Hebrew slavery in Egypt. Consider Exodus 1:8-16,
8 Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.9 And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. 10 Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” 11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. 13 So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves 14 and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves.
15 Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16 “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.”
Pharaoh and the Egyptians feared the expansion of the Hebrew people and built deathworks to kill their males and to enslave their females. If this isn’t an example of systemic injustice I am not sure what is.
Hopefully I have successfully persuaded you that when fallen humans organize in a fallen world that, in spite of restraints to evil, they can have the propensity to create wicked structures that promote lies, evil, and ugliness instead of truth, goodness, and beauty.
Structural Racism in History – We have no shortage of examples in history of structural racism –apartheid, aspects of caste systems, aspects of colonialism, and genocide of all kinds. I hope it isn’t terribly controversial to state that these are obvious cases of structural racism. I admit that I scratch my head sometimes when I hear statements that like, “there is no such thing as systemic injustice” or “there is no such thing as systemic racism.” We have very obvious examples from both history and from the Scriptures themselves.
Structural Racism in America – The list below is nowhere near exhaustive. Whole volumes can and have been written on each topics. Please feel the freedom to self-educate yourself. Each of these topics are problematic while some are more egregious than others. If you find yourself disagreeing with one or two of them please don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Any single one of these topics being true is enough to establish the notion of structural racism in our countries history.
Chattel slavery – humans were stolen from their homeland, stripped of their language, culture, family, land, property, and dignity forced to work for no wage and given ostensibly no rights.
Slave codes – these were codes that determined what to do in a wide variety of situations of marriage, baptism, children, running away, prohibitions against reading, prohibitions against weapon possession, prohibitions of self-defense, castration, and capital punishment. There are dozens of exemplars equal or worse than the three listed below:
According to the Maryland Slave Code of 1664, free-born woman (including British women) married a slave she became the slave of the master along with all her progeny:
And all children born of any Negro or other slave shall be slaves as their fathers were, for the term of their lives. And forasmuch as divers freeborn English women, forgetful of their free condition and to the disgrace of our nation, marry Negro slaves, by which also divers suits may arise touching the issue of such women, and a great damage befalls the masters of such Negroes for prevention whereof, for deterring such freeborn women from such shameful matches.
According to the Virginia Slave Code of 1667 Christian baptism did not confer freedom:
Whereas some doubts have risen whether children that are slaves by birth, and by the charity and piety of their owners made partakers of the blessed sacrament of baptism, should by virtue of their baptism be made free, it is enacted and declared by this Grand Assembly, and the authority thereof, that the conferring of baptism does not alter the condition of the person as to his bondage or freedom; that diverse masters, freed from this doubt may more carefully endeavor the propagation of Christianity by permitting children, through slaves, or those of greater growth if capable, to be admitted to that sacrament.
According to the Virginia Slave Code of 1705 slave masters had carte blanche for capital punishment of slaves who “resisted his master”:
And if any slave resist his master or owner or other person, by his or her order, correcting such slave, and shall happen to be killed in such correction, it shall not be accounted felony; but the master, owner, and every such other person so giving correction shall be free and acquit of all punishment and accusation for the same, as if such accident had never happened.
Formation of the AME Church – The African Methodist Episcopal denomination was founded by Rev. Richard Allen and Rev. Absalom Jones because blacks were only allowed to sit in a segregated area and only allowed to minister to black people.
St. George’s had no history of segregated seating, at least until the later 1780s. Then white leaders required black parishioners to use the chairs around the walls rather than the pews. During one service in 1787, a group of blacks sat in some new pews that, unbeknownst to them, had been reserved for whites. As these blacks knelt in prayer, a white trustee came over and grabbed Absalom Jones, Allen’s associate, and began pulling on him, saying, “You must get up—you must not kneel here.” Jones asked him to wait until prayer was over, but the trustee retorted, “No, you must get up now, or I will call for aid and force you away.” But the group finished praying before they got up and walked out.
Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 – The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 was weakening in its power in Northern states more inclined to abolitionism. These states were using a variety of legal means to harbor runaway slaves and Southern states wished to close these loopholes. Section 6 of that Fugitive Slave Act states that a fugitive slave could be reclaimed in any territory (free or otherwise) with a warrant or affidavit from the court and it also stipulated that the suspected fugitive slave was given no due process (a huge loophole which led to conscription of freemen):
And be it further enacted, That when a person held to service or labor in any State or Territory of the United States, heretofore or shall hereafter escape into another State or Territory of the United States, the person or persons to whom such service labor may be due, or his, her, or their agent or attorney, duly authorized, by power of attorney, in writing, acknowledged and certified under the seal of some legal officer or court of the State or Territory in which the same may be executed, may pursue and reclaim such fugitive person, either by procuring a warrant from some one of the courts, judges, or commissioners aforesaid, of the proper circuit, district, or county, for the apprehension of such fugitive from service or labor, or by seizing and arresting such fugitive, where the same can be done without process, and by taking, or causing such person to be taken, forthwith before such court, judge, or commissioner, whose duty it shall be to hear and determine the case of such claimant in a summary manner; and upon satisfactory proof being made, by deposition or affidavit, in writing, to be taken and certified by such court, judge, or commissioner, or by other satisfactory testimony, duly taken and certified by some court, magistrate, justice of the peace, or other legal officer authorized to administer an oath and take depositions under the laws of the State or Territory from which such person owing service or labor may have escaped, with a certificate of such magistracy or other authority, as aforesaid, with the seal of the proper court or officer thereto attached, which seal shall be sufficient to establish the competency of the proof, and with proof, also by affidavit, of the identity of the person whose service or labor is claimed to be due as aforesaid, that the person so arrested does in fact owe service or labor to the person or persons claiming him or her, in the State or Territory from which such fugitive may have escaped as aforesaid, and that said person escaped, to make out and deliver to such claimant, his or her agent or attorney, a certificate setting forth the substantial facts as to the service or labor due from such fugitive to the claimant, and of his or her escape from the State or Territory in which he or she was arrested, with authority to such claimant, or his or her agent or attorney, to use such reasonable force and restraint as may be necessary, under the circumstances of the case, to take and remove such fugitive person back to the State or Territory whence he or she may have escaped as aforesaid. In no trial or hearing under this act shall the testimony of such alleged fugitive be admitted in evidence; and the certificates in this and the first [fourth] section mentioned, shall be conclusive of the right of the person or persons in whose favor granted, to remove such fugitive to the State or Territory from which he escaped, and shall prevent all molestation of such person or persons by any process issued by any court, judge, magistrate, or other person whomsoever. [emphasis added]
Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) – “In Dred Scott v. Sandford (argued 1856 — decided 1857), the Supreme Court ruled that Americans of African descent, whether free or slave, were not American citizens and could not sue in federal court. The Court also ruled that Congress lacked power to ban slavery in the U.S. territories. Finally, the Court declared that the rights of slaveowners were constitutionally protected by the Fifth Amendment because slaves were categorized as property.” (source)
The National Housing Act of 1934 (Property red-lining) – This Act established the Federal Housing Authority who enacted policies that significantly contributed to the decline of minority neighborhoods through withholding lending to neighborhoods considered too risky for bank lending. In 1935 maps were commissioned to assess underwriting risk in several hundred major cities and properties were categorized into four color coded risk categories, the worst of these risk categories were outline in red. These areas were typically predominantly black and were generally not lent to as a result of these commissioned maps.
Jim Crow Laws (1896-1965) – Jim Crow laws were laws in the South that established a wide variety of segregation in various public spaces – schools, restaurants, buses, bathrooms, and water fountains… etc. These ‘separate but equal’ laws served to establish a very visible caste system in the reconstruction era South.
‘Slavery by Another Name’ – Convict Leasing, Peonage, and Sharecropping – Even after the Emancipation Proclamation declared slaves free and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified there existed various forms of ‘slavery by another name.’
Convict leasing was a system where businesses or plantations could lease convicts for forced labor. The practice was a significant profit center for the state and its participants were largely black.
Peonage was a form of debt slavery where a debtor was bonded to a master and required to work off a defined period of debt. Peonage was not uncommon in the reconstruction era, particularly among blacks.
Sharecropping was a system by which a landowner would allow a tenant the right to a certain volume of harvest yield in return for working that yield. This system was abused to extract significantly inequitable arrangements between landowner and tenant.
Anti-miscegenation laws – Loving v. Virginia (1967) – Anti-miscegenation laws were state-based laws prohibiting interracial marriage and interracial sex. These types of laws were not declared unconstitutional in the United States until the Supreme Court ruled as such in Loving v. Virginia in 1967.
Sentencing of crack cocaine vs. powder cocaine (Coke) – Prior to 2010 sentencing lengths for identical amounts of crack cocaine and powder cocaine were 100:1. After the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 that sentencing length ratio has now been reduced to 18:1. Self-reported cocaine usage is 12% of the U.S. population while crack is only 4%. This sentencing disparity impacts 8,800 prisoners in the United States, 87% of whom are black.
Mass incarceration – The rate at which incarceration has increased per-capita has increased significantly over the last 40 years. Black males are incarcerated at a rate of 6 times per capita white males. “Almost 3% of black male U.S. residents of all ages were imprisoned on December 31, 2013, compared to 0.5% of white males.” It is difficult to consider that socio-economic factors alone contribute to this disparity. Even if it could be empirically shown that socio-economic factors alone could account for the disparity, what are the roots of those socio-economic disparities?
Much more could be said about things like GI Bill benefit inequality, racist college and seminary admittance practices, and countless other egregious violations of the imago dei. Hopefully we can agree that there is at a minimum a history of structural racism at the legislative, economic, and social levels in America. Hopefully this background gives us some reason for pause to ask how this legacy might have enduring influence and ask ourselves if we have ongoing inequities today.
Evangelical Church Institutions – Both the Presbyterian Church in America (Overture 43, c. 2016) and the Southern Baptist Convention (Resolution on Racism, c. 1989) have published statements regarding racism within their denominations along with explicit resolutions intending to mitigate or resolve those matters.
Protests by NFL Players
Because we have important firsthand accounts of precisely what key NFL players intend by their protest it is imperative that let those persons speak for themselves. Therefore, please read these extended excerpts from Eric Reid’s (pictured above kneeling to the left of Colin Kaepernick) NY Times Op-Ed:
In early 2016, I began paying attention to reports about the incredible number of unarmed black people being killed by the police. The posts on social media deeply disturbed me, but one in particular brought me to tears: the killing of Alton Sterling in my hometown Baton Rouge, La. This could have happened to any of my family members who still live in the area. I felt furious, hurt and hopeless. I wanted to do something, but didn’t know what or how to do it. All I knew for sure is that I wanted it to be as respectful as possible.
A few weeks later, during preseason, my teammate Colin Kaepernick chose to sit on the bench during the national anthem to protest police brutality. To be honest, I didn’t notice at the time, and neither did the news media. It wasn’t until after our third preseason game on Aug. 26, 2016, that his protest gained national attention, and the backlash against him began.
That’s when my faith moved me to take action. I looked to James 2:17, which states, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” I knew I needed to stand up for what is right.
I approached Colin the Saturday before our next game to discuss how I could get involved with the cause but also how we could make a more powerful and positive impact on the social justice movement. We spoke at length about many of the issues that face our community, including systemic oppression against people of color, police brutality and the criminal justice system. We also discussed how we could use our platform, provided to us by being professional athletes in the N.F.L., to speak for those who are voiceless.
After hours of careful consideration, and even a visit from Nate Boyer, a retired Green Beret and former N.F.L. player, we came to the conclusion that we should kneel, rather than sit, the next day during the anthem as a peaceful protest. We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture. I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.
It baffles me that our protest is still being misconstrued as disrespectful to the country, flag and military personnel. We chose it because it’s exactly the opposite. It has always been my understanding that the brave men and women who fought and died for our country did so to ensure that we could live in a fair and free society, which includes the right to speak out in protest.
It should go without saying that I love my country and I’m proud to be an American. But, to quote James Baldwin, “exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”
I have too often seen our efforts belittled with statements like “He should have listened to the officer,” after watching an unarmed black person get shot, or “There is no such thing as white privilege” and “Racism ended years ago.” We know that racism and white privilege are both very much alive today.
And it’s disheartening and infuriating that President Trump has referred to us with slurs but the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Va., as “very fine people.” His remarks are a clear attempt to deepen the rift that we’ve tried so hard to mend.
I am nevertheless encouraged to see my colleagues and other public figures respond to the president’s remarks with solidarity with us. It is paramount that we take control of the story behind our movement, which is that we seek equality for all Americans, no matter their race or gender.
What we need now is numbers. Some people acknowledge the issues we face yet remain silent bystanders. Not only do we need more of our fellow black and brown Americans to stand with us, but also people of other races.
I refuse to be one of those people who watches injustices yet does nothing. I want to be a man my children and children’s children can be proud of, someone who faced adversity and tried to make a positive impact on the world, a person who, 50 years from now, is remembered for standing for what was right, even though it was not the popular or easy choice.
We don’t have to do complex analysis to objectively understand the thought process, intentions, issues, and desired outcomes of the two central players who began taking a knee during the national anthem. Their thought process was we have a James 2:17 responsibility to put our faith into action for voiceless persons. Their intentions were ‘peaceful’ and ‘respectful.’ Their issues were ‘unarmed black people being killed by police,’ ‘systemic oppression against people of color, police brutality and the criminal justice system, and President Trump’s referral ‘to us with slurs but the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Va., as “very fine people.”’ The desired outcome is, ‘we seek equality for all Americans, no matter their race or gender.’
The text is plain and simply understood.
It is a red herring to ignore someone’s message because you are offended by the medium, even when that someone took measures to insure you weren’t offended by the medium.
Does not Christian charity compel us to take Mr. Reid at his word on both the medium and the message? The issues that he levies are serious ones.
Given the history of our country being founded to end the systemic injustices of the crown against her…
Given the history of our own systemic injustices against black persons…
Given the intended peaceful and respectful nature of the protests…
Given the eminently agreeable desire for co-equality of persons…
… should not simple love of neighbor as self convince us of the worthiness of having local and national conversations about these issues?
Might it be that our personal experiences in America might be different than other persons?
Suspend disbelief and consider for a moment that there is such a thing as ongoing structural racism in America, would this not be a matter of extreme importance for the well-being of our society? History and the Bible show us that these things can and do happen. Part of our Scriptural and civic duty is to love our neighbor as ourselves. This means that when a neighbor has a grievance we give them a legitimate hearing personally, culturally, and legally. Violations of constitutional rights are worth protesting and they are worth discussing even if you aren’t convinced.
The Kingdom of God
Even if it were empirically true that kneeling during the national anthem was offensive to our flag and country, there is a very real sense in which every proclamation of the Gospel of the Kingdom is simultaneously a disrespect to any and all sovereign flags – past, present, and future.
Jesus has inaugurated this kingdom in his life, death, resurrection, ascension, and enthronement. His church is continuing this kingdom empowered by the Holy Spirit given her since Pentecost. Jesus will return to fully and finally consummate his earthly kingdom. This kingdom will exhibit nothing but the true, good, and beautiful character of the Father, Son, and Spirit. This kingdom will be a government and it will be perfect in every respect.
All humans are made in the image of God. We are meant to reflect God in ways consistent with His character and Scripture. As Christians, we were made to create culture by being fruitful and multiplying (family) and having dominion and subduing the Earth (vocation). We accomplish by multiplying numerically and geographically God’s covenant keeping image bearers over the face of the earth through marriage/family and the mission of the church to the world in Word and deed.
At what point does our love for country or patriotism become a “disordered love” or idolatrous?
The obvious answer is when love for any earthly kingdom is equal or supersedes our loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving our neighbor as ourselves. One could easily argue that our love for earthly kingdoms should pale in comparison to our desire for the Kingdom of God.
If we find ourselves not listening to the message because we are offended by the medium, it ought to give pause for a moment of honest self-reflection as to why. Do I have a disordered love?
There are many questions the narrative of Scripture give us to help diagnose these things:
Why did Jonah not want to go to Nineveh?
Why did Israel get exiled?
What does it mean to do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with my God?
What does it mean to love my neighbor as myself? Who is my neighbor?
What does it mean to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven?
What does it mean that the last shall be first?
What will the fullness of the kingdom be like? How does that inform my life today?
What does Jesus mean by blessed are the peacemakers?
Why was the office of deacon created at the church in Jerusalem?
Why did Paul publicly oppose Peter to his face?
God’s Word can help reveal blindspots that we might possess. It is well worth ruminating on these well known passages of Scripture.
Our desire of the consummated Kingdom, our love of neighbor as self, and our awareness of our own history ought to compel us to engage in robust dialogue about the state of race and potential enduring structural racism in America. Our potentially disordered love of country can lead to a dangerous tribalism. Tribalism can lead one to judge one’s own in-group by their best actors while at the same time judging the out-group by their worst actors. In the spirit of ‘blessed are the peacemakers,’ we must serve as mediators and translators between two worlds and not rending the societal fabric. We must set aside our personal offenses for the sake of others dignity.
It is fitting that Dr. Martin Luther King gets the final word in what is perhaps the most haunting of all of the portions of his Letter from Birmingham Jail:
I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. 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. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.
Michael Graham is Associate Pastor of Orlando Grace Church and CFO of Allogy Interactive. He received his M.Div from Reformed Theological Seminary. When he’s not writing or administrating, he is traveling, running, or photographing with his wife. You can follow him on Twitter @ufmikeg.