One of the major contrasting issues is always to make plain or clear the purpose of protest or direct action. Dr. King had a plan to bring opposing sides to the negotiating table. It is clear to us who they were in Birmingham. Who are the opposing sides in today’s “struggle”? And what are we trying to negotiate? What is our goal?
One of the major contrasting issues is always to make plain or clear the purpose for protest or direct action. Dr. King had a plan to bring opposing sides to the negotiating table. It is clear to us who they were in Birmingham. Who are the opposing sides in today’s “struggle”? And what are we trying to negotiate? What is our goal?
Dr. King spoke earnestly against unjust laws that denied “our constitutional and God-given rights.” He bemoaned the segregation of Blacks and Whites in public and humiliating signs over public facilities declaring “white” and “colored” restrooms or drinking fountains. This systemic form of racism—known as Jim Crow laws—had a stranglehold over the deep South. However, in condemning the unjust laws of Jim Crow he upheld the idea that America was a great nation and that democracy was a noble political system. King would challenge America, the land and home of the free, to live up to its ideological underpinnings asserting: “A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state’s segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?”
Alabama was not functioning with a democratically-elected body of legislators like the rest of America. Blacks were disenfranchised and not allowed to partake in the democratic process. Laws were created to marginalize its citizens and restrict them from many of the liberties that made America great. Dr. King was committed to working to ensure equality for all under the law—an ideal proffered by our nation’s founding fathers and imbedded in our 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.–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 [Jefferson].”
In response, Dr. King argued that Jim Crow was not “just” according to our nation’s own laws, emphasizing that state legislators were not “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” He argued that Blacks had no say in the makeup of the legislature, because they were denied the right to vote. Furthermore, Jim Crow laws denied Blacks the right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” King recognized that equal rights under the law were a pillar of our nation; however, there remained a large portion of the population denied their rights based solely on the color of their skin. And, so strengthened by our Declaration, King fought for the “right” of the people to alter the way the government fulfilled its promise but not to abolish the government.
Dr. King’s respect for the founding principles of our nation were evident as he declared the surety of the movement’s victory: “Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation-and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.”
In Dr. King’s iconic “I Have A Dream” speech, he longed for the day in this nation that his children would be judged “not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” echoing the sentiments of Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington. Add to this list the golden rule, which admonishes, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12 ESV).
But with what measure are we to be judged today? How are the demands of today’s “Woke” culture or the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement representative of a people who continue to thrive in the face of injustice? Needless to say, neither of these movements proclaim a biblical foundation or Christian roots. In fact, one could argue that these contemporary movements demand the opposite of what Dr. King stood for and fought to accomplish. Many in these groups are quick to judge White people by the color of their skin while insisting they have “white privilege,” which automatically makes them guilty of racial injustice simply because they are White. This reasoning turns Dr. King’s words on their heads. Thinking that one is guilty simply because he or she is White or another is oppressed simply because he or she is not is the opposite of what King preached.
Ironically, instead of the equity of opportunity that Dr. King marched for or the equality he sought under the law prescribed in the Declaration, today we have something different. Equality is now judged by the outcome or the proportionality of Blacks you have in an industry vs. the population. If Blacks make up 13% of the population, we should be 13% of all doctors, lawyers and Indian Chiefs. Where this standard of proportionality isn’t met, it is said to be proof that racism is afoot and needs to be dealt with. The reality is no industry has proportionality; no city or state has proportionality; no family has proportionality. And, like the unjust laws of our past, it’s an unjust standard of measure.
There are too many variables that dictate outcomes: culture, geography, personal drive and ambition, acumen, parental involvement, and even genetics. Tall people are more likely to become basketball players than short people. However, even within an industry, certain individuals are outliers, like Michael Jordan. People are moved to various professions for various reasons and they excel or fail for various reasons. Yes, racism still exists, but it isn’t necessarily the cause for there being, for example, more NFL Black players than coaches or general managers. In fact, the disproportionality of Black players to White players doesn’t mean White players are being discriminated against. The lack of sports owners among minorities is not a harbinger that racism is rampant. There are many Whites who’d like to own a team. However, there are only 32 teams in the NFL. Not only do you have to have the resources but also the desire and the opportunity. Those opportunities only come around when a team is sold or the league expands. Both of these are rare. Hence, so-called “bean counting” is never a good idea to prove racism or the lack thereof.
Tragically the “Woke” movement is really sleepwalking through the racism of decades past, reliving and refighting the wars that have already been won. It’s time to put into practice Dr. King’s admonishment to stop judging people by the color of their skin and, instead, look deeper into the content of their character. He envisioned a time when the South would understand that direct action was “in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judeo-Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.”
Lastly, I must lament, whenever I see clergy follow and accept the tenets of BLM or the “Woke” movement, I am deeply troubled. These movements have infiltrated the Church and left it in disarray. Back then, Dr. King lamented the Church’s lack of leadership in joining the Civil Rights movement, maintaining, “There was a time when the church was very powerful in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.”
Today, I also lament the fact that the Church has become more of a thermometer, following the ideology and leadership of people who don’t share our Christian values. Those who care nothing for biblical principles are speaking into the Church, and rendering her ineffective. The “oppressed” have now become the “oppressors.” We should be leading the way forward as a thermostat, setting the temperature as a means to transform society. Needless to say, if we believe that Black Lives really Matter, we’d tackle gang violence in our cities, abortion, fatherless homes, out-of-wedlock births, underperforming schools and criminal justice reform. None of these maladies can we solely place on the negative effects of racism.
Lastly, let me quote the Apostle Paul in Galatians 3:1-6: “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (ESV).
May those who have ears, hear what the Spirit has to say…