Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I was remembering the other day a conversation I had recently with someone I respect deeply who was talking about the life of Martin Luther King Jr. He essentially demoted MLK from being the great man that he was because of the record of sexual infidelity to his wife. Yet his wife and family have been willing to see MLK as he was -- a flawed man who was a great man. And what other kind of great man or great woman is there?
White men generally have absolutely no idea of what it is like to live every day oppressed by something over which you have no control -- society's reaction to something like the color of one's skin or one's gender or some other part of being "you" that either cannot be hidden or is oppressive to have to hide. Even white women like me -- born into a family that could give me every advantage, and with all the personal resources to compete well academically and in society -- have difficulty in really imagining what it would be like to live with the handicap we place on minorities in our culture, let alone with the handicap we placed upon them 50 years ago. But I have ears and a good imagination, and a tiny little bit of experience of personal injustice . . . and I can run with that to a real empathy for what articulate brothers and sisters have described their lives to be under the injustices of racial oppression.
"Good people" submit to the culture around them, and so there have been incredible pressures on black men and black women who want to be successful personally to just work within the status quo and follow the existing rules to get as far toward success as they personally can get. Even the Bible called upon "slaves to submit to their masters" and for all of us to submit to the governing authorities, and so conservative Christianity rarely has sided with a rebellion against the status quo. But there have been great men and great women who have had the discernment to see the big picture, and to understand God's vision for justice, and to be willing to be obedient at great personal cost so that greater justice would be available to more people.
The powerful majority needs to understand that we all benefit from the world God envisioned -- a world of justice and true equal opportunity. Just on an economic level, we all get to enjoy a healthier economy when our resources of intelligence and initiative are best deployed toward producing the whole picture of goods and services. And, on an individual level, it is more deadening spiritually and personally to be part of that unjust majority than it is to be part of the oppressed minority. A spiritual life and great personal power are tied to imagination, empathy, and a clear view of reality. Those who participate in the majority with clear consciences when they should be horrified at the blood on their hands can only do so by ignoring a huge piece of reality, and are thereby handicapped in living the abundant life they could otherwise enjoy.
Many white evangelical males are very invested in "justice" when it means involvement in something that will address someone else's injustice in a country far away, but unwilling to invest anything close to home where it might undermine their own power or at least their obvious right to power and comfort. We women are equally to blame, because we benefit from the male power by protecting our own power and comfort - - and we are much more effective at enforcing our social values and cultural expectations. We are the keepers of the status quo, and punish those who violate it by ostracizing them socially.
So we are as much to blame as are they for any attitude of minimization toward this day when not only our country but also our churches should be celebrating the life of one of the great saints of our times. Martin Luther King Jr. was used by God to accomplish God's goals, and I look very much forward to meeting him and listening to him in the New Heavens and New Earth that is promised us. While he failed his wife and failed himself, he did not fail his God or his brothers and sisters . . . and he did not fail us. He has provided us and our children with a richer America and a better life than we would have had without his life and leadership.
May I allow all my sisters and brothers their proper place in this world God has created. To do any less is to miss obedience to the God of my salvation . . . and to do that is to miss out on all He desired to give you and me if only we had been willing to obey.
I believe obedience requires also that we all make sure the we -- and our children -- listen to the stories of daily oppression from minorities who suffer, and take every action necessary to make sure that we are not complicit. Justice in Africa and Asia is necessary, but even more necessary is justice in Orange County. We are called to clean house before we go out and try to fix things in someone else's world. But how many sermons will we hear on justice this weekend in our white churches, and how many among us in the pews have skins that are different colors than our own?
Micah 6:7-8 is not meant to be convenient. It is meant to shape our lives completely, even when highly inconvenient. Is that something we can afford to ignore or minimize?