Today America celebrates a man who challenged the nation to live up to its stated value that all men are created equal. We can acknowledge today how far we have come or how far we have yet to go, but regardless of which perspective you choose, today is a day we recognize the efforts of a man and his followers who caused dramatic change in America.
I was 18 years old when Dr. King was assassinated. I was about as racially sensitive or aware as any typical white teenager, so the events around his murder puzzled me, but I was absorbed in other things, like graduating from high school. Then six years later, I had my conversion experience and was almost immediately thrust into a world where I was working and worshiping with folks who were both black and white. I was still clueless, but I concluded in those early days that if there was any hope for people to get along, any possibility of racial healing and understanding, the gospel of Christ was the only answer. More on that later.
In 1989, I moved to Alabama, the heart of Dixie, to work with an African American pastor as his assistant. To say that was unusual would be the understatement of the year, for most people expected it to be the other way around, as evidenced by places of business that would always ask me first if they could help me, even if my black pastor entered the business ahead of me.The white population in Alabama was mostly lukewarm to our relationship, but I thought the black churches would be more intrigued and interested. They were not.
White churches were white and black churches were black and "never the twain shall meet" was the rule of the day, and often still is. It was sometime during my 11 years in Alabama that I read Dr. King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail. I was captivated by the excellence of the writing but also, more importantly, by the rightness of the message. That letter caused me to ask myself two questions: If I had been older and more "in touch" in 1968, would I have walked, marched or stood with Dr. King? The answer I came to was probably not.
The second question was a more important one: What could I do now that I was aware? I determined that, by God's grace, I would be an agent of healing and reconciliation wherever I lived or worked. Since that time, that value has guided my decisions of where I lived, worshiped, worked, and traveled in ministry. Only God can answer if I have been successful. As Mother Teresa said, God did not call us to be successful, just obedient. Time will tell if I responded to that second question properly or followed through with my conclusion.
Today, I'm not particularly interested in diversity. I have little time for tolerance. Instead, I want to see people of all races and cultures come together and not be concerned about who is right or who was wronged, but intent on finding how to be reconciled in Christ. Toward that end, I continue to do what I can to bring about reconciliation. I have concluded if it is almost impossible for those in the church to be reconciled, and we have the power of the Spirit and the word of God as allies, then there's no hope for any other entity to accomplish that goal - not government, legislation, meetings, training, or wishful thinking.
Reconciliation will require people to be transformed and then to walk out the terms and behaviors of reconciliation, even when it isn't in their best interests economically, socially, or culturally to do so. The Christian faith has the only answer to the problem that causes racism and oppression, which is sin caused by the Fall of man, and therefore the Church is the only one that can offer the remedy. So far we, and I include churches of all ethnicities, have not done a very good job.
On this important occasion, I pay tribute to Dr. King, but really, my tribute contributes very little to his legacy that achieved so much and is still producing results. However, I don't want to remember on this day only to go about my business the rest of the year. Today, I recommit myself to be that source of reconciliation, peace, and healing wherever God assigns me. I commit myself to help correct the historic wrongs that continue to plague our interracial relationships, thus preventing the ultimate and ideal that Dr. King described: "That the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood."
Through my commitment, I will be making a small, personal contribution to a very big problem, and perhaps God will multiply my efforts to touch people who need healed from the pain of the past and the hopelessness and uncertainly of the future. Today is a day to remember and celebrate what Dr. King taught and gave his life for; tomorrow is a day to get back to work to make it happen.