Just a few weeks ago, I was driving from Branson Missouri to Fayevettville Arkansas to preach, and along the way I saw this sign, posted on the road as if it was a totally normal billboard.
There were other signs as well, saying things like “Loving your own people isn’t a crime” (implying loving only your own people) and I was extremely disappointed in my home state. Thankfully a lot of other Arkansans are too.
But It does raise the question. Why do we really think this is wrong? Those billboards are statements that a thousand years ago, in pagan cultures would make perfect sense, your people, the people who are like you, are the ones you are supposed to love and protect and privilege above all others.
These days we hear people say that we shouldn’t be racist. But why? We live in a secular age, an age that fiercely resists any kind of overarching storyline and yet we still have these impulses that things should be a certain way. So here’s a question, what do you say to these billboards?
People have been racists for thosands of years, and no one really thought it was a problem. We hear people say that all people should be treated equal, but why? Nobody ever considered that for thousands of years, that ideas was anything but self-evident, it was nonsense.
The problem is that we have these dangerous ideas and we don’t know where we got them from, we don’t know where they came from and so we don’t know how to really live them out.
The truth is, those billboards are right. It’s not a crime to only love your own people.
But it is a sin.
Bus Ride to Justice
This past year I had one of the great privileges of my life in getting to go with 20 other preachers (10 black & 10 white) to tour historic Civil Rights cites across the South. We called it “The Bus Ride to Justice” and I’ve never had an experience like this before. We laughed and cried together, we shared our stories we prayed together and we forgave each other.
It was in a word simply what the church is supposed to be.
So today is Martin Luther King Jr. day, ironically the same Federal government that declared Dr. King to be one of the most dangerous men in America during his life, now celebrates his birth with a Federal holiday. Today Dr. King is recognized as one of the greatest people in history for his commitment to human rights and non-violence while pursuing justice.
And today, Dr. King’s name is used by everyone to endorse a thousand different agendas from conservatives to progressives. He supposedly endorses every new candidate and any new social program but we forget who Dr. King really was. A preacher of the Gospel.
Seriously, that was what he wanted to be known as, Here’s how Dr. King said it:
“Before I was a civil rights leader, I was a preacher of the Gospel. This was my first calling and it still remains my greatest commitment. You know, actually all that I do in civil rights I do because I consider it a part of my ministry. I have no other ambitions in life but to achieve excellence in the Christian ministry. I don’t plan to run for any political office. I don’t plan to do anything but remain a preacher. And what I’m doing in this struggle, along with many others, grows out of my feeling that the preacher must be concerned about the whole man.”
Dr. King was a preacher of the Gospel, the problem is, that for many of us we’ve forgotten how big that really is.
One of the most inspiring things to me about the Civil Rights Movement is watching those videos of the March on Washington. The day that MLK stood up and told everyone about a dream he had, a dream that was bathed in the prophets of yesterday and a hope in a better tomorrow.
Thousands of people came from all over the country, rode buses and drove cars, they planned out their trips for where they could stop and eat or sleep in a segregated country where most restaurants and hotels wouldn’t serve them.
They did all that, just to be there that day.
But the most inspiring part of that day to me, isn’t just the speech, it’s the people, specifically what they were wearing. Go back and watch some of that old grainy black and white footage, you’ll see that the women were wearing their finest dresses and the men are wearing their ties.
You know why? Because they had to be, it was a Sunday morning and they had just left church.
The Dream Comes from Church
They came pouring out of church, worshipping a God who says that in Christ there is no segregation or separation and then they came together and told the world about their dream.
That why Dr. King kept saying he was a preacher first, because he knew what the Gospel was and what it could do.
One of the great ironies of today’s world is that we are so secular, insisting on flattening out all religious distinctions as if they didn’t matter. But we don’t really know what to do with Dr. King. Because in all the social good that he did, Dr. King was deeply Christian and driven by a Christian imagination. He fought for civil rights not in spite of his faith, but because of it.
We walked into an office, and I immediately knew it was Dr. King’s office, there were no plaques, no protective cases or rope preventing you from walking in. But I knew it was is office because I knew it was a preachers office, it felt like a preachers office, and it had his books, but it also had regular preacher books. And it was still used every week. Museums have asked to put Dr. King’s old pulpit on display, and Dexter Avenue has told them “No, we use that every Sunday”
At one point on our racial reconciliation trip this year, I was overwhelmed with how many times white racists bombed and set fire to and attacked black churches. We all wept at the site where the four little black girls lost their lives when the 16th Ave. Church was bombed in Birmingham, We wept when Dr. King’s eulogy was read ending with him saying “Sleep on, sweet princesses.”
We wept at the evil that human beings are capable of inflicting on each other, but we never asked the question, “Why were they bombing churches? Why were they trying to kill people while they worshipping?” Because we knew the answer.
As dark as it may sound, we all knew that the KKK members had chose the right targets. They knew what they were doing, if you want to stop this vision for equality and dignity for all people, you must go to the source.
This vision for a world where people are not judged by the color of their skin but the content of their character comes from a cave in Bethlehem and seeds of this dream are planted in almost ever street corner of every city across the world.
The Church is the dream, because the Church is the body of Christ.
Thank you Dr. King for being her preacher.