Last month I participated in a Civil Rights Tour put on by Taylor University. Various leaders from Taylor led a group of alumni, faculty, staff, students, and other friends through the South to major points of interest related to the struggles for Civil Rights in America. I am always eager to learn new things, and I was excited to get a chance to spend significant time immersing myself in the issues that so divide our nation these days.
On the trip, we visited the Civil Rights Museum that was literally built around the Loraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed. We also went to the 16th Street Baptist Church where four young African American ladies were brutally murdered while attending Sunday school, something so egregious that it is difficult to contemplate. As we traveled further south we reached Selma and the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the site of the stand-off between what can only be understood as racist white police and African American citizens who were simply marching nonviolently for the right to vote.
We also visited a recently constructed museum in Montgomery, Alabama dedicated to the victims of lynchings in America. This site was a particularly somber one. The sinfulness of some of our ancestors was acutely on display there.
The challenges of confronting evil on such a massive scale were not lost on me or others on the trip. Often times I simply sat in silence watching and listening to the various things speakers and leaders were saying as they explained the history of each particular site. Sometimes little conversations popped up as we together processed the madness of it all.
As the trip is now a month behind us, I wanted to document a few of my thoughts, some of which are relevant to the struggles America faces today.
Slavery is/was a doubly evil enterprise. When Adam fell, the Lord declared that he was destined to survive by the sweat of his brow as he toiled the land. By practice, the institution of slave labor instantiates a system that outsources the God-given consequence of sin to others. How insidious! Put differently, slavery is evil enough in that it unjustly subjugates one person to another. But it is doubly problematic in that it also functions as a means by which the slaveholder avoids the God given consequences of his own sin.
One evening, Dr. Richard Smith and I had dinner with two ladies on the trip who, to their credit, politely and civilly, yet decidedly, expressed their incredulity at Excalibur. We were able to have quite a redemptive conversation, something I have been longing for throughout the last two years. Since Excalibur was released and even prior to it, I have been eager to see Christians better handle the tension surrounding some of the issues that divide us. To me, this conversation was a microcosm of what I think could be possible on a grander scale.
I was categorically impressed with Dr. King’s commitment to nonviolence in the wake of the injustice over the centuries. This was no doubt difficult for him on two levels. First, there is the ever-present tendency we all have to seek vengeance through angry retaliation when we have been treated wrongly. But perhaps even more difficult to resist were voices friendly to the cause of equal rights who sought to achieve them through violent means.
I have spent a significant amount of time in Northern Ireland over the past two decades. Anyone familiar with that country knows the history of terrorism, murder, and hatred between the Protestants and the Catholics over the centuries. While both the U.S. and Northern Ireland are unique and each history is marred with their own particular evils, I was struck by some of the similarities between the two countries, including a hatred of those who are different, the abuse of power, and how sins of the fathers leave a legacy of madness for future generations.
Perhaps the highlight of the trip for me actually took place the day after I returned. I was asked to drive Dr. Barbara Reynolds, the Dr. Martin Luther King Day speaker, to the airport on Tuesday morning. Those in attendance in chapel on MLK day heard a lady who actually did quite a bit of work to connect with the Taylor audience, even going so far as identifying herself as an evangelical, though she took issue with a few things regarding President Trump.
The highlight then came as she and I had a wonderful discussion on the way to the airport the next morning. We discussed our political views, why she said what she said in chapel, and it was clear that politically we were on opposite pages. But it was a great discussion from both our perspectives. We both learned from each other. It resulted in her inviting me to look her up were I ever in Washington! She even asked for a hug as I dropped her and her assistant off at the airport! I gladly obliged.
The point of course is that in this politically charged madness in which we find ourselves there are certainly political battle lines to draw when it comes to ideas and how we want to best fix the problems in the world. Some ideas are categorically better than others. But politics will only ever get us so far. Dr. Reynolds and I did two things in our conversation, though we never articulated those things explicitly. First, we assumed that what binds us together theologically was of primary importance: a love for Jesus Christ. Second, we chose to assume the best of the other person in our dialogue for we both had something to gain by engaging one another respectfully.
My sense is that as Christians engaging in culture as it is moving towards chaos, I think this is our calling. What is it about our culture and our own disposition that prompts us to think the worst of others and forget our oneness in Christ? I’m certain there is a great deceiver who has something to do with it.
Finally, it is important to note what we are all truly longing for is an eschatological king who will exact ultimate final justice. It’s quite overwhelming to consider all the injustices of history. Importantly, as we try to right some of our wrongs, we would do well to remember that even our best efforts at justice have a tendency to include injustice along the way. This is a thought Dr. Richard Smith has aptly articulated. As a believer simply trying to do righteousness in my own life, I have been guilty of doing certain injustices to even friends and family. Again, the point is that we are in a fallen world and we long for a completely righteous king. This doesn’t mean that we should not try to make things better socially here and now. Rather, we should do so knowing fully that one day complete justice will come when Christ reins. Come, Lord Jesus, come!