Archives For Politics

On December 8, 2015

Cave God: The War of Christmas

Cave God

I think it’s interesting that every year we talk about a war on Christmas, Every year, there’s some story that makes the 24 hour news cycle, and we start hearing the pundits on television talking about the war on Christmas. It’s normally about how some nativity scene in some city was forced to move away from a public park next door to some land owned by a church.

And we call that war.

If we think that moving our nativity scenes is the equivalent of war, then we should go back and read the Christmas story. Do you remember why Mary has the child in a cave? Remember why God has to send some coded message to some wise men with stars? Remember why Mary and Joseph went back to Bethlehem in the first place? Or why they had to flee as refugees to Egypt?

It’s because the Christmas story starts off with a first century Hitler on the throne. Herod is so afraid of losing his power the he’s willing to wipe out an entire generation of Jewish boys just to make sure he’s killed one of them. Joseph and Mary have to leave their home and become refugees overnight.

Herod commits infanticide on hundreds or thousands of baby boys.

This is what a war on Christmas looks like.

And what’s important to remember here, is that Herod does all of this, not because he doesn’t understand what’s going on, he does it, because he does understand Christmas.

Did you know that right now, all over the world there are people who gather together in secret to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Just by gathering together they are breaking the law, and it’s not because the national governments of the places they live in don’t understand Christmas, it’s because they do!

Because the truth is that there isn’t so much a war on Christmas as there is the War of Christmas. 

Jesus didn’t come with the title of religous figurehead. He came with the title of King. In a day and culture where that meant something. He’s the president, the Prime Minister the Supreme Leader of the World. That’s what Christmas means, and wherever a group of people gather together and celebrate that, expect for there to be people who are against it.

Christmas in the Margins

It’s ironic to me that we fight about Starbucks or Wal-Mart not saying Merry Christmas, or we argue about nativity scenes getting pushed to the margins of society. It’s ironic because that’s exactly where the first nativity scene occurred. Christmas happened in a cave, in a no-name kind of town with two parents who were peasants and moral outcasts. Christmas happened in the margins!


Next week, I have a blog about why this matters so much, but you need to know if Christmas was true, than this was not an accident. Jesus being born in the margins of society was not a setback for God, it was the strategy of God.

God coming through the oppressed and poor isn’t just part of the story, it many ways, it is the point of the story.

Now I understand why Christians sometimes get upset up about this, Symbols matter, and when we see culture replacing language of Christmas with Happy Holidays it reminds us of the larger decline of Judeo-Christian values in society.  I really do understand that, and know that it matters.

But a lot of the rhetoric I hear about this seems based in fear. And that’s why it’s important to actually remember what the real Christmas story is about.

Did you know that the prologue for every Christmas passage in the Bible is “Do Not Be Afraid.”

Every time an angel shows up to tell anyone about Jesus they always start off with “Do Not Be Afraid.” And if you think about it that’s really the dumbest thing they could say. “Don’t be afraid Mary?” Really? She’s about to go head to head with Rome, the largest political power the world had ever seen. From her Jewish peers, she is going to be gossiped about and shamed. Her firstborn is going to be killed, and her family is going to be in danger every day from that day forward.

And the Angel has the moxie to tell her not to be afraid?

But this Angel knows exactly what he’s doing. Because, at least historically speaking, the Angel was right.

Christmas History

In the fourth century, there was a monk named Dionysus the Insignificant (who was a bit bummed about his last name) but this monk is the one who gave us the Calendar we still use today. And Dionysus didn’t put at the center of his calendar the story about the founding of Rome. Unlike every other calendar of his day, this monk divided up time Before Christ and After Christ. His calendar was centered around the Christmas story.

Dionysus the Insignificant as depicted by Mother Grimm

Dionysus the Insignificant as depicted by Mother Grimm

And it stuck.

Jesus lived and died and Caesar never even knew about him.

John Ortberg points out that one of the earliest titles of Jesus was the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings. They called him that  in a time when Jesus had only a handful of followers. In the day the first Christians started calling him that, it would have been unbelievable to the outside world. But the fact remains that 2000 years after his birth, when anybody, anywhere in the world opens a calendar, unfolds a newspaper, looks at a tombstone or writes a check, they are reminded that Jesus Christ has become the hinge of history.

Because Nero died in the Year of our Lord 68;  Napoleon died in the Year of our Lord 1821;   Hitler died in the Year of our Lord 1945.

They are all dated by the King of Kings.

I love the way G.K. Chesterton says this:

Philosophy still sat in the high places and even on the thrones of the kings, when Christ was born in the cave and Christianity in the catacombs…The cave in one aspect is only a hole or corner into which the outcasts are swept like rubbish; yet in the other aspect it is a hiding-place of something valuable which the tyrants are seeking like treasure. In one sense they are there because the innkeeper would not even remember them, and in another because the king can never forget them… [Christmas] was resented, because, in its own still and almost secret way, it had declared war... Those who charged the Christians with burning down Rome with firebrands were slanderers; but they were at least far nearer to the nature of Christianity than those among the moderns who tell us that the Christians were a sort of ethical society, being martyred in a languid fashion for telling men they had a duty to their neighbors, and only mildly disliked because they were meek and mild.

Did you catch that? Those who charged the Christians with burning down Rome were lying, but at least they were closer to the true nature of Christianity than people today. Christianity is not just some domesticated religion for suburban people to feel better about themselves, and Christmas isn’t just lights and presents. In it’s own still and secret way, it is declaring war.

So maybe you don’t believe that Jesus was the Lord of lords and the King of kings–but no matter what you believe, or where that nativity scene winds up moving to this year. The undeniable fact is that every ruler who has ever reigned, every nation that will ever rise and fall, now must be dated in reference to the life of Jesus.

After all, today we name our daughters Mary, and our dogs Caesar.

That’s what Christmas means.

God is waging a war on all wars, and God wins.

Do not Be Afraid.


After this past month’s historic ruling by the Supreme Court, I’ve hesitated to write anything. Not because I don’t have convictions, but because I don’t want my words used as a weapon, sparking more inflammatory shouting between groups that are growing further and further apart.

I’d like, if my words can do anything, for them to serve as a kind of medicine for people who are confused and anxious. I’d like for them to serve to heal those who have been, or are being injured by the subsequent, widening social divide (a divide that I think we are going to continue to see grow).

And if that resonates with you, than please read on, I think I have some good news for you.

The Suffering of Shame

Three months ago, at the Q conference Dr. Michael Lindsay, the President of Gordon College (who was recently at the center of a discrimination controversy between LGBT rights and a Christian college) gave a talk where he brought up the famous ASCH social conformity experiment.

You’ve heard of this experiment before. It’s where a test student is brought into a class and shown a picture of 3 separate lines all with differing lengths.

An Original Card in a ASCH Experiment

An Original Card in a ASCH Experiment

The teacher then asks the question “Which one of these lines is longest?” And each member of the class verbally responds with their answer. The catch is that everyone in the class has been coached to give the wrong answer, and the real experiment has nothing to do with a person’s ability to measure lines. It has everything to do with a persons ability to not conform to what everyone else around them is doing.

And the answer was shocking. About 75% of the test subjects wrote down that the answers that were obviously wrong but conveniently popular.

Now we don’t need a social experiment to tell us that, it’s something that we all experience everyday. We all have a strong need to conform, to be liked, and to be like the people we like. But while this is a very strong pull on the human heart, conformity has never been a Christian virtue. In fact, from the beginning it was assumed that Jesus followers would be a different kind of people than the rest of the world.

But that involves some level of discomfort. In fact, I would argue that what most of my Christian friends are calling persecution these days is not persecution (In light of the very real persecution that our Middle-Eastern brothers and sisters are facing at the hands of ISIS, using that word shows a lack of global awareness).

We’re not struggling with persecution, we’re struggling with popularity, and the loss of privilege…a very real struggle to be sure, but not quite persecution. And that’s a struggle that the LGBT community is already very familiar with.

For hundreds of years, to be gay, closeted or not, was to live a life of great shame, either internally or externally. I certainly have plenty of gay friends stories that come to mind as I write these words, I’ve sat and cried with them and I’ll bet some of you reading this have too.

I’ve found that people who have known suffering often are very empathetic, compassionate people. In my experience with gay friends, that’s certainly been the case. It will be easy over the next few weeks and months for us to focus in on the louder, more shrill voices of cable television or articles designed for clickbait.

But there are better stories than those, and today I’d like to highlight one.

The very next presenter at the Q conference was the popular blogger and prominent LGBT activist Andrew Sullivan. And he said some of the most wonderful things to a room full of Jesus followers. I found him deeply empathetic and articulate as he responded to Michael’s talk:

“I found what Michael had to say very moving., and the spirit that he offered it in more moving still. And the personal hurt that he clearly experienced, I want to ask his forgiveness for. It really pains me to think that people would stigmatize, demonize, and attack people for the sincerity of their religious faith, whatever that religion would be. And I think that the Gordon College thing was a clear step beyond anything we’ve seen before. There is an element of intolerance…I think the experience of feeling out of sync with the culture, and being demonized by it is a terrible feeling to have.”

Watch the video and notice how gracious and compassionate Sullivan is. And then listen with just as much of an open heart as you can to his next statement.

A Church for the World, Not a Worldly Church

“I would just ask in return, that people understand that for centuries gay people were thrown out of their own families, their own churches, put in jail, hanged in this country, executed around the world. That the gay people went through an unbelievable trauma in the 80’s and 90’s in which 300,000 people died. Which is 5x the number of people who died in the Vietnam war during the same period of time…and where were you all?…The experience that many people here (at the conference) are now having was the core and total experience that gay people in many Christian societies experienced forever. We were jailed, we had hormones inflicted upon us…the number of young people killing themselves (within Evangelical communities) is real.

Now I’m accountable to a tradition, and to a people who believe that the greatest joy a human being can have is found in discovering the pleasure of God.

On our better days the reasons conservative Christians have drawn a line in the sand here is because we believed the pleasure of God is worth giving up everything else for, and we, perhaps mistakenly, have tried setting up a society that reflected (and at it’s worst imposed) that.

I come from a tradition that follows a celibate man who I happen to believe was the happiest man who ever walked the face of the earth. But not everyone comes from that tradition, and so those outside of it are now asking for, and receiving, the very things I would probably ask for were I in their shoes.

They’ve done the work of changing the culture by creating culture. Something not to be dismissed. The LGBT community has entered into and worked hard in every arena of society…from entertainment, politics, education, religion and literature.

They’ve exerted an inordinate amount of influence in a incredibly short amount of time and that’s something that any group of people who is interested in shaping the world should learn from.

Being counter-cultural is the call of Jesus for His Church. Hearing from my friends across the world Christianity is doing better than ever, it’s just not taking the form of Christendom anymore. There’s a vibrancy that happens to the church when Christianity is not assumed in the host culture.

As the British Christian Mark Woods pointed out recently in Christianity Today:

The immediate consequence of this ruling, then, is an invitation to do some theology. One of the painful things for observers of the evangelical scene on both sides of the Atlantic has been the reluctance of ‘pro-marriage’ (= anti-gay marriage) campaigners to distinguish their idea of the Church from their idea of the state, as though the two were coterminous…Evangelicals (and others) have got themselves into a knot because they think the state is trying to define Christian marriage. It isn’t; it can’t, and it never could. But the long history of Christendom has allowed Christians to think that the two are the same. Most Americans have always been keen on the separation of Church and state; well, now’s the chance to find out whether you mean it.

I agree wholeheartedly. The Church is a kind of way of being in the world that is different than the world. At our best we are a church for the world and not a worldly church.

At our best we try and build bridges between injured people and help represent Jesus in the most accurate way, and to do that we’ve got to remember to love the person right in front of us. To do that we have to apologize for some stuff we shouldn’t have done, we have to search our hearts for bigotry that the Bible never supports in order to correctly articulate what it does.

At our best we realize that God gave us these stories/doctrines/ideas not for harm but for health and healing. At our best we remember that truth is not designed to injure, and we suffer along with and bear the burdens of brothers and sisters whose discipleship calls for greater sacrifice.

May God forgive us when we forget that. And thanks Andrew Sullivan for forgiving us too.

Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity either in locality or in speech or in customs. But while they dwell in cities of Greeks and barbarians…the constitution of their citizenship is nevertheless quite amazing and admittedly paradoxical. They dwell in their own countries, but only as sojourners…Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and every fatherland is a foreign country.Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus from the 2nd century


At the Highland Church, we are coming to the close of our series of the Gospel of Mark. For the final three weeks of this series, we’re releasing several different videos we made earlier this year created from different locations in Jerusalem, in the places where Jesus spent His final hours.  Each week’s video will be a supplemental resource for that week’s upcoming sermon, and If you’re interested in watching the rest of these videos they’ll be posted weekly to the Highland Facebook page.

Antonia Fortress – Am I Leading a Rebellion? from Highland Church on Vimeo.

I like showing these kinds of videos because it’s important for Jesus followers to remember, this really happened, and it happened in a world much like ours.

Jesus didn’t just leave home and travel to a far county, he was born under Ceasar Augustus, and sentenced to die by Pontius Pilate. His life is the myth become fact, the God become man, the King who become a carpenter, and who steps into the calendar around 4 A.D.

This particular video is filmed in the Antonio Fortress, the place where the Praetorium Guard was assembled and where Jesus would have met Pilate. I think this video is an appropriate reminder on this election week for Christians to be reminded of this scene.

In a world where everyone seems to think they know who Jesus was and what His movement is about, but strangely seem to have lives similar to people who have no intention of following him, maybe it’s time to look again at the man who turned the world upside down.

Shooting this video here was a good reminder of how Jesus chose to serve and change the world. In his three years of ministry Jesus wasn’t very interested in politics, but after his three years of ministry the politicians sure were interested in Him.

Just a little historical background for those interested, The Antonia was a tower built by Herod for his soldiers to watch over the Jews during their festivals…especially Passover. During the entire time that Rome ruled over Israel there were six different revolts. And five of them happened during the Jewish festival of Passover.

This is why Jesus’ actions during his final week were so dangerous. When Jesus rides into town like a King, and start throwing tables around in the Temple courts, the rulers know that they have to stop this as soon as possible.

But they don’t know how.

Here’s Your King

I’ve heard people say before that the Jewish people didn’t have the authority to enforce capital punishment and kill Jesus, historically speaking that’s not true. The Jewish people were given authority by Rome to enforce justice and keep the peace (see Acts 8 where the first Christian martyr Stephen is stoned) The only hard and fast rule that Rome had given both Herod and Pilate is “no revolts”

As long as everyone just smiles and politely goes about their religion business than Rome is content to look the other way as you talk all you want about “freedom” and a “God who delivers”

But Jesus intends on being more than polite.

And so on the final day of Jesus’ life the Roman and Jewish authorities have to find a way not just to execute Jesus but to turn the people against Him. To this end, Jesus was taken to the Jewish courts and convicted of blasphemy, a charge  they didn’t kill him, instead they send Him to Pilate. But Pilate knows when someone is passing the buck, after all the business of the Jewish religion had nothing to do with him, so Pilate passes him off to Herod Agrippa, only to get him back from Agrippa a few hours later…without any sentence.

In a scene that is eerily familiar to modern day politics, nobody wanted to make themselves vulnerable by taking the blame…but Mark is writing in a way to tell us that’s exactly what Jesus was doing.

In a season of political unrest and power-grabs, Jesus is largely silent, quietly laying down his life. When He’s beaten and accused, He responds with grace and forgiveness and blood.

He may be like a King, but Kings are not like Him.

He’s leading a rebellion, it’s called the Kingdom of God and you can’t vote that in, but everyone can be a part of it.

On February 11, 2014

Civil Religion: Whose Future?

Screen-shot-2011-01-25-at-7.52.40-AMThis past week, I sat down with my friend Luke Norsworthy for his podcast to talk about this blog series. Luke is a great interviewer and I highly recommend subscribing to his podcast. He has interviewed Scot Mcknight, Shane Hipps, Ian Cron, and every week has a great new podcast.

For those of you who don’t have time to listen to the whole thing, there’s a couple of stories from it, I’d like to share with you.

In his great book, FutureVille, Skye Jethani tells about participating, a few years back, in two days of talks with religious leaders around country and leaders in the LGBT community. The meeting was off the books and so people were able to talk candidly with their feelings toward each other and their perceptions. One side envisioned a future of traditional marriages and re-inforced traditional values, and the other side envisioned a future where the idea of marriage expanded to include same-sex couples.

And here’s what he said about those two days:

The anger and wounds displayed by both sides at the off-the-record gathering were not merely a result of holding different convictions on a complicated issue. The worst damage was the result of seeing the other group as the barrier to creating the “right” future for the country. It was never said explicitly, but the message was clear: the future of our society would be brighter if you were not a part of it….Words like bigot, ungodly, depraved, and homophobic were mentioned as leaving deep and lasting wounds by both sides. Decades of anger and scars came out into the open… The name-calling and dismissive labels used by each side were deemed justifiable because those on the other side were the “enemy”; they were to be defeated with overwhelming political, cultural, and economic force to achieve a “greater good.” After all, if the other side won, progress (however each side defined it) would be lost. What both sides of the culture war forget is that when we label another person or group as the “enemy” because they oppose our vision of the future, we also reduce their value. We diminish, at least in our eyes, some of their God-given worth by viewing them as objects to be removed rather than people to be loved. Whenever we diminish the value of people created in God’s image, we cannot be moving closer to Shalom.

The most heartbreaking sentence in there is “Both sides believed that the future would be brighter if the other group wasn’t a part of it.”

But there is another way.

People of Reconciliation

Remember last year when the Chick-Fil-A “event” happened? The founder and C.E.O. of Chick-Fil-A, Dan Kathy, had made a comment in an interview supporting the traditional definition of marriage. In a matter of a few hours, the world had been divided up into people who were for love and people who ate at Chick-Fil-A, or we carved it up as people who stood for truth and wouldn’t eat there.

We carved up the world into the question, “Which side of the Chicken biscuit are you on?”

But that didn’t work for Dan Kathy or Shane Windmeyer.

In the middle of all the controversy, Windmeyer received a phone call from Dan Kathy. He took the call very cautiously, sure it was going to be some tactic to escalate the situation. Windmeyer, an openly gay man and founder of the LGBT program “Campus Pride” found himself talking to a man who was kind and curious about his perspective.

Before the phone call, they each were enemies, and a few weeks later they both found themselves as friends. Both men, at great risk to their reputation in their respective communities, reached past the talking points and sound bytes and found a way to re-humanize each other. They found a way to realize how much they have in common, without pretending like they didn’t have significant differences.

Windmeyer wound up saying that he started to see Dan Kathy the way he does his own uncle, the Pentecostal Preacher. He knows his religious views aren’t supportive of his lifestyle, but in all his years he’s never doubted his uncle loved him. And so when Dan Kathy invited Shane to the Chick-fil-a bowl a few weeks later, he went.

And a few weeks later, he came out of the closet as Dan Kathy’s friend.

In his wonderful article at Huffington Post, Windmeyer says this:

[We were] sitting down at a table together and sharing our views as human beings, engaged in real, respectful, civil dialogue. Dan would probably call this act the biblical definition of hospitality. I would call it human decency…

I would call it being like Jesus.

On August 20, 2013

Good and Evil: Crazy Right


Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. -St. Paul in 1st Corinthians

One of the more interesting moments in the Gospels is when Jesus is teaching and his mother and brothers interrupt Him because they think he’s gone crazy.

Now if you are new to Biblical criticism, it might surprise you to know that this is actually something that helps to prove the Bible is telling the truth about Jesus. Most scholars think that whenever the Bible includes the negative stuff that people thought about Jesus, it lends more credibility to the idea that they are telling the truth about Him in other places.

But I think this little story adds credibility in other ways as well.

The Sanity of Evil

When I was a junior in college, I toured the concentration camp Auschwitz with a few other friends. It was one of the most profound and heavy days of my life. It was looking at evil in its purest form.

Several decades ago, Thomas Merton (a Catholic Mystic from Kentucky) wrote about one of the most disturbing things I’ve read about the Holocaust. It was about Adolf Eichmann, the man who engineered the death camps and who was ultimately responsible for the efficiency of the murder of millions and millions of Jews.

But that’s not the worst part. The worst part, according to Merton, is that when Eichmann was on trial for his crimes against humanity, they did extensive psychological testing on him. They wanted to see what was broken inside of his mind to make him doing such heinous things like this. But one of the most disturbing things about his trial is that when they examined him to see just how crazy he was, they discovered….


Eichmann was perfectly sane.

Which is so much worse isn’t it?

Because Eichmann, wasn’t just a crazy man going around killing people. He was an organized businessman/leader who had a desk job. He didn’t have trouble sleeping at night, or problems eating. He was in fact a real family man, a community oriented civic leader. He was proud of his job and loved kids. He was someone we would have considered normal. Maybe we would have even been an elder in our churches.

He wasn’t crazy, and that is the problem.

Here’s what Merton says:

The sanity of Eichmann is disturbing. We equate sanity with a sense of justice, with humaneness, with prudence, with the capacity to love and understand other people. We rely on the sane people of the world to preserve it from barbarism, madness, destruction. And now it begins to dawn on us that it is precisely the sane ones who are the most dangerous.

Which brings me back to Jesus. I would think that if Jesus is who Christians think he is, then we would constantly think he sounded crazy. Since the beginning of history, we have developed ways to justify our sin and call it normal. If the world really is upside down, than if Jesus is revealing the way God created the world to be, he is always going to sound a bit…crazy.

So back to Thomas Merton. Here’s what he says about a world that calls genocide sane:

What is the meaning of a concept of sanity that excludes love, considers it irrelevant, and destroys our capacity to love other human beings, to respond to their needs and their sufferings, to recognize them also as persons, to apprehend their pain as one’s own? Evidently this is not necessary for “sanity” at all. It is a religious notion, a spiritual notion, a Christian notion What business have we to equate “sanity” with “Christianity”? None at all, obviously. The worst error is to imagine that a Christian must try to be “sane” like everybody else,”

Every culture puts immense pressure on the individuals within that culture. We are taught to think of the world in certain kinds of ways. We are constantly being tempted to think succumb to group think. The problem is just how unaware we are of this.

Have you ever noticed just how easy it is for us to think that Jesus endorses the same wars, every politician, every tax cut, or tax increase that the news shows you watch endorse. Jesus tends to care about the same things that we do.

And that Jesus is perfectly sane.

I’ve noticed over the years, that we religious people have the imagination to call anything Christian that fits with the world we need to exist.

Unless we read the Gospels. In which case we begin to have uneasy realization that Jesus is crazy.

No mater how we try to spin the story, the Bible is filled with dozens of irrational people. From Moses to David to Abraham to Mary and Paul, people who see what God sees don’t act like everyone else. They are the ones who think differently about the world. And they tell stories about talking donkeys and pregnant virgins and people raising from the dead.

They are insane, but they have a faith about the way the world will one day be.

They believe that one day their crazy will be right. 

On November 5, 2012

An Election Week Prayer

I had the opportunity yesterday at the Highland Church of Christ to share this brief word of encouragement for how Jesus followers might enter this election week. I hope this breathes a fresh word of peace into your life. May we not be fearful.

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On May 23, 2012

The Great Affair

So it’s an election year. And along with that comes a lot of highly charged emotions and goals for Jesus people all across the country. We have all these hopes and dreams for the country we live in and we have an opportunity to speak our mind and vote our conscience. That is one of the great things about American in particular, what we think actually matters. However, over the course of the past few years, Americans have gotten increasingly uncivil with one other. We are angry, and sometimes hostile, many times among other people who are followers of Jesus.

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On March 15, 2012

The Victory of the Lamb

In High School when I read Revelation, I remember being struck by how violent it all was. But Revelation is doing war against violence itself. It is subverting the very thing that our human condition is built upon. Might makes right, Power is Victory. Revelation tells us the Gospel doesn’t agree, and it’s subverts violence itself.

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On January 25, 2012

Can I Get a Witness?

As we read through the book of Revelation, we would do good to remind ourselves that this letter isn’t written to us, at least not directly they way we think about it. It was first written to Jesus followers who lived in the world ruled by Rome. They were misunderstood, for the most part they lived in poverty and on the margins, they were beginning to be hated and persecuted, and so God gives John a vision for them.

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On January 16, 2012

More Than Civil

What stands out about Dr. King in this video is how he treated these people, and how he responded to the face of some pretty insidious seeming questions. He was extremely civil. In our day, these kinds of conversations would have been filled with lots of yelling and red-faced name calling. But that wasn’t what Dr. King’s dream was.

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