Yesterday my friends Jack Sullivan and Sekinah Hamlin were among the thousands who crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, AL. They did so remembering those who crossed it 50 years ago, shining a spotlight on the brutal nature of institutionalized racism in America. Over the years of my ministry, many (well-intentioned?) church people have suggested to me that recalling the dark days of Jim Crow, or the horrors of slavery upon which much of white America's wealth was built, is dangerous and counterproductive. It has been suggested that we are better served to "leave the past in the past and move on." One person said, "I don't see what good it does to keep bringing this up."
Here at UniPlace we have been praying our way through Exodus as our Lenten discipline for this year. God's call to liberation is undeniable, and if you've seen one Pharaoh, you've seen them all. It's not an accident that the Civil Rights movement in this country was championed by a preacher who knew his Bible.
What good does it do for people of faith to remember Moses leading a band of slaves out of bondage? Of what use was it for the people of Israel to erect a monument at Massah and Meribah to recall a nearly violent rebellion against Moses' leadership over the issue of water? To what purpose do we Christians partake of bread and cup reciting the words, "Do this in remembrance of me?" There is something about the spiritual journey which requires remembering -- remembering the dark days of slavery, remembering the heady joy of freedom's early days, remembering the quarrels in the wilderness, remembering how hard it is to unlearn the legacy lessons of oppression, remembering that love and liberation are both tethered to a tree.
I don't know what it means that in 2015 a bridge still stands lauding the name of a Grand Dragon of the KuKluxKlan. To think that in 1965, one hundred years after the thirteenth amendment outlawed the institution of slavery, a city could look up at the name of that bridge and be proud to recall, "that was our senator," causes my head to spin. But I think it is important to remember. Elected to the US Senate in 1897 and 1903, Edmund Pettus' senate campaign relied on his success in organizing and popularizing the Alabama Klan following Reconstruction. The brave men and women who crossed that bridge in 1965 did so as a statement that they were ready to unlearn the rote lessons of a people too long oppressed. This is American history, this is our Christian faith history, and we need to tell the truth about it.
I agree with our President who said yesterday that we have made some progress in this country since 1965 in the realm of racial inequality. Citing the Justice Department's report excoriating the police department of Ferguson, MO, President Obama said in Selma, "What happened in Ferguson may not be unique, but it's no longer endemic. It's no longer sanctioned by law or custom, and before the civil rights movement, it most surely was." But while some progress has been made in some areas, we cannot just leave the past in the past as if racism has been defeated now. As our President said, "We don’t need the Ferguson report to know that’s not true. We just need to open our eyes and our ears and our hearts to know that this nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us. We know the march is not yet over; we know the race is not yet won. We know reaching that blessed destination where we are judged by the content of our character requires admitting as much.”
|Sekinah Hamlin and Jack Sullivan (thanks for the photos!)|