Last week I watched people come to the defense of the white Catholic school boys from Covington High School with the kind of veracity that a parent has for their children. By now I don’t need to re-hash what happened with the original incident. If you’re reading this blog, you probably know what happened. These kids went from America’s new KKK to perfect little angels who were victimized by the evil leftist media. They’re probably neither. I don’t condone the death threats they’ve allegedly received nor the “Black Hebrew Israelites” treatment of them. (Lord help us all with those clowns.) Something unjust happened during this exchange, and none of us know exactly what. However, that hasn’t stopped us from taking sides.
Often people object to singular passion about social injustices with “what about…” or “did you say the same when…”. These statements are usually nothing more than red herrings and evidence that there is no objection to the validity of what is being said or done to oppose injustice.
It’s impossible to be genuinely passionate about every social ill that plagues our world. One of my best friends will often say “I can’t keep up” in response to the latest polarizing current event. It’s not realistic for us to expect everyone to share all of the same burdens or even be aware of how a particular social malady affects certain groups of people. It is, however, reasonable to expect cultural sensitivity and consistency with how we protest evil and defend justice.
It’s human nature to defend our own. However, how do we define “our own”? Is it by race, gender, or religion? Most of us would like to believe we determine whom we support or defend by reasonable means, but the truth is we are victims of bias in most cases. What we were taught as children, what our holy book or tradition says along with many other outside factors shape what we believe and feed us our perspectives.
None of us are as noble as we may believe we are. Righteous causes by themselves don’t make us righteous people. In today’s world of instant and pervasive media, we can find support for whatever bias we hold dear. I’ve had people share links on my FB page of articles and videos that showed “definitively” that the boys from Covington High were victims of hatred. I’ve been lead to pages that had comments like “That Indian isn’t even a real veteran. He made it up”. The person sharing the link likely overlooked that offensive racist quib because the overall message of the page kept their view of things warm and comfortable. Like it or not, we may all be more tribal than we’d care to admit and day after day we are finding ways to confirm our bias through media whether we know it or not.
I find it interesting that when we’ve witnessed video of the outright murder of black and brown boys by police, some of the same people so outspoken in defense of these Catholic school boys are silent or condemning. I’m not asking people who are outspoken or outraged about abortion to also be outspoken about racism. I’m questioning why people who are unreserved about how we as a society should treat our youth aren’t consistent about that cause. Why were Trayvon Martin, Alton Sterling, Philando Castille, and Tamir Rice, all guilty offenders, but Nick Sandmann is just an innocent kid who was victimized by the media? I didn’t see Botham Jean, the worship leader shot and killed in his own home, defended with the same zeal as these boys.
I’ll admit that this is a frustration to me in part because I am a black man. I try to be objective in the way I view stories that unfold in front of me, but I’m human. I’m subject to bias, proof-narratives, and emotional reactions. For all of us, instincts kick in before we have a chance to engage reason or virtue. That’s not evil. That’s human. We need to resist the urge we have to make villains out of people who see the world differently than we do. It’s difficult, and there are people, as Alfred once told Bruce Wayne…
What’s important is that we recognize that the keywords in the phrase “my world view” are “my” and “view.”
This week as you scroll through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and all the rest, take a moment to see how many people are confirming the view that you own. When you do come across someone who owns a different view than you, instead of bringing your view to them, ask them to bring their view to you. The more we can hold onto someone else’s perspective, the better we will become at responding to the ache of humanity rather than building a case for the bais we own.
In Dr. King’s breathtaking “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” he lamented the posture of white clergy towards the Negro liberation movement in Alabama. White people felt like the protests lead by Civil Rights leaders were unwise and ill-timed. If you’ve never read the letter, I highly recommend you do. If you’ve read it before, might I suggest you take another look at it as we approach MLK Day on Monday?
Dr. King highlighted one group of people, in particular, with which he had grown more and more frustrated. He said this group of people were more of a threat to the full liberation of black people than any white supremacist hate group. He was more disturbed by these people than even the Ku Klux Klan.
I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
Being an advocate for social change today doesn’t require what it once did. Marches and sit-ins are no longer the only way to show that you support the cause of black people demanded equality. As a result, the new white moderate can hide in plain sight. They can hide because of all the access to wokeness social media gives us.
We live in an era where social media allows the new white moderates to borrow the wokeness of people deeply committed to social change by clicking the re-tweet or share buttons.
The new white moderate is a white person who believes in white privilege, white fragility, implicit bias, and the overall inequity that exists within the American social structure. They read, watch, and listen to today’s thought leaders on race. NWM recognize racism when they see it. Many of them possess a heightened sensitivity to racism and can often see racism in comments or actions that appear void of malicious or racist intent. They are secretly discontent with the lack of diversity at their jobs, churches, or in their communities.
Today’s moderate is different than the moderates that sat on the sidelines of the Civil Rights movement of the 50s and 60s. Those white moderates were blind to privilege, implicit bias, and fragility. They didn’t have access to the menagerie of woke content that saturates the internet today. In today’s world, NWM have become well versed in the language, trends, and stories that boost their understanding of the issues that keep black and brown people from standing on equal footing with white people in America.
Moderates then and now hold some beliefs that prevent them from engaging in the minority struggle for equality. These ideologies hold their wokeness at bay and blind them to their lack of allying and advocacy. Chief among these ideas is the belief that Time will fix it.
I worked for an organization that was reluctant to take even the smallest steps forward in the dialog about racial inclusion and equality because the timing needed to be just right. I agree that the schedule for having a dialog about race, justice, and equity should be well-timed, well thought out, and well executed. The problem with the new white moderate is that the “right time” they are waiting for seems to be measured by the white fragility watch.
The time for dialog about racism is almost never right now.
I’ve heard white moderates say that a solution to racism is to “wait for old racist white people to die off.”. I’ll echo the words of Dr. King.
Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.
In this past three years, my children have come home from high school and middle school with stories of 12 to 17-year-old students who use terms like nigger and coon. If we are to continue to wait for time to emerge as the long-awaited Messiah for racial justice, we are at least another generation away from seeing the change that many of us are so eagerly awaiting.
There is no way forward for the new white moderate or any of us that won’t cost us. No path of little resistance exists for people wanting to commit to significant efforts of change. Time will not jump into the fight and win the battle for us.
The new white moderate is a fifth-year senior in the aware stage of white wokeness. They are more progressive than those that are in denial about the effects of racism on our society but pose no threat to the systems and structures that keep racism in place. They aren’t willing to go public with their objections to the evils of racism for fear of what it could cost them financially or socially. NWM are comfortable in the privilege they so readily admit is an ugly stain on the fabric of our Nation. That privilege allows them to evade feeling any sense of urgency for change. It’s not their fight, but here’s hoping that one day it will be.
MLK Day is a federal holiday. It is a day set aside to remember the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. It’s a day that has been met with resistance since it was proposed as a holiday in 1968. It took until 2000 for the holiday to be recognized as a federal holiday by every state in America. Utah is the last state to accept it.
Churches have been even slower to acknowledge MLK Day as a holiday worth mentioning during Sunday gatherings. Many churches in America that recognize Independence Day, Veterans Day, Memorial Day, Thanksgiving, Valentines Day and Halloween have failed to recognize this federal holiday that was established to help us remember that all men are created equal. Perhaps many clergies don’t recognize the opportunity MLK weekend creates for sharing the gospel or perhaps it’s deemed a holiday for only black churches to celebrate. Whatever the reason, not taking time out to significantly honor the memory of Dr. King is a missed opportunity. Here are 4 reasons clergy should make significant space in the weekend programming for remembering Dr. King.
1. Dr. King was a pastor.
MLK Day is a federal holiday that pauses the Nation to remember a man of the cloth and the work he did. People of all ethnicities, creeds, religions, and beliefs remember a Christian pastor’s message to America that all human beings are God’s children and equal. Every year black and non-black clergy have the opportunity to reaffirm that message and the pastor who preached it. Dr. King is in the great cloud of witnesses watching us who are still here carrying the message of liberation and freedom forward. He is a brother to ever faith leader who sacrifices, leads and gives of themselves for their congregants.
2. It deeply matters to the black people attending your church.
I recently heard a story from a friend who took over a church a few years ago. In the first year of being a lead pastor, they asked the production team to make sure there was a moment in service to acknowledge Dr. King. The church had never done it before. After the first weekend service where they did it, a black woman came up to my friend with tears in her eyes and said: “For the first time in ten years this feels like my church.”
In multi-cultural or predominantly white congregations black people are often sacrificing the cultural experiences of their communities in order to belong to such churches. There are a number of reasons black folks chose not to attend a “black church” such as proximity, relationships, seeking more structured programming or teaching style. Whatever the reason they chose to attend churches where they are the minority, they are still aware each and every week that they are the minority. Hearing the lead pastor affirm the importance of equality from the stage can go a long way toward making black folks feel like they belong.
3. The work is not done.
I don’t think I need to tell anyone reading this that reconciliation is an ongoing issue. There is still so much work to be done for us to truly be reconciled to one another. Racism is pervasive and difficult to recognize because of its pervasiveness. The more we take time as communities of faith to wrestle with principles of inclusion and unity, the more we will see areas we need to repent, change and grow. Serious work takes serious time to do. MLK Day is a natural opportunity to stand on the shoulders of people who have gone before us in that work. We can take a fresh look at the sermons preached by Dr. King and evaluate ourselves to see how well we’re doing at loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.
4. Jesus preached the same message.
If you read about Jesus from the gospel writer Luke’s perspective you will find a significant emphasis put on the liberation of the poor and oppressed people of the world. From Mary’s Song, Jesus reading of Isaiah in Luke 4, to the Sermon on the Mount, you find a message of good news to the poor and oppressed. The work of the Messiah was to liberate the people of Israel from the things that held them captive. We tend to reduce this message to merely spiritual concerns in our Western reading of scripture, but for the people living during the time of Jesus and the people reading his story in the first century, the expectation was that there would be physical liberation as well. Luke records Jesus saying “blessed are the hungry for they will be filled”. Luke doesn’t write “Hunger and thirst for righteousness” as Matthew does. He also doesn’t record Jesus saying “in spirit” after Jesus says “blessed are the poor”.
Jesus was concerned with social issues that affected human beings on earth not just in heaven. It’s that message that Dr. King picked up and preached to us over 50 years ago. When a preacher examines the words of Dr. King and shares them with their congregation, they are not sharing a message that is other than the gospel but announcing that the Kingdom of God is indeed here and now.
For some of you that have done videos, slides, or special songs in the past, I’d challenge you to consider taking a step further and devoting all or part of your sermon to sharing something significant about Dr. King.
Having worked for several larger churches I know that most times teaching calendars and sermon series are planned months in advance. If you’re a part of a church leadership team that hasn’t planned for MLK weekend, I understand it can be difficult to pivot last minute. To those of you wrestling with that tension after reading this, I’ll offer two suggestions.
- Plan for it next year. Add MLK Day to your teaching calendar so that you don’t miss the opportunity again.
- Consider pivoting this week. Chances are you’ve pivoted before with less notice. Your team survived and you likely didn’t regret making the last minute change.
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