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?
What you have said here is very well written and is as close to the truth as I have ever seen from a Christian. There are apparent contradictions in the Bible but Micah 6:7-8 is very appropriate to today’s world.
"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" White women and any minority don't know what it's like to be an "average"white male.Just because there are white men at the top doesn't mean all white men have it great.We each one wake up and face life with our own struggles.I wouldn't debate who has it worse.I have no control over "the man" giving the job,loan,free education,(or what ever it may be that affirmitive action has put on me)to someone they say is more oppressed than i am because i am white male 57.I do my best thats what i can control.But no matter where i am i still have to surrender to someone.
Your comments and refreshingly honest. MLK was a great man and it is apparent that he left the country much better off by causing it to face the ugly truth about racism, especially when we view televised events of people unjustly firehosed, set upon by dog and spat at. You help us to understand the necessity to admit ugly complicity in order to experience the real grace of God. Thank you.
James, I don't argue with you at all as to the fact that life is unfair and that that is true for white males as well as for anyone else. I was addressing the unfairness and cruelty of racism against blacks in particular, but certainly there is reverse racism and racism that targets other ethnic groups than african-american. I am glad that you are not afraid to speak your truth, and that you did it as well as you did.
I received many anonymous comments on this post that I did not publish (moderated comments means I can pick which show up and which don't) because they were rude or abusive or just not coherent at all -- and because they were anonymous. They were all anti-black or anti-MLK or anti-white-women-who-are-suffering-from-guilt. To all of them I'd say the same thing: feel free to speak your truth about your life and experience and to ask the world for the things that you need to be successful and experience a level playing field. That's what MLK and other civil rights leaders did so well!
All of these issues are complicated -- on a national level and on a personal level. But daily obedience to God in figuring out what is true to the best of my ability, in speaking the truth to the best of my ability, and in living a life full of mercy and justice to the best of my ability . . . it's not too complicated. And that's what each man and woman of any color is called to do!
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