As we approach Martin Luther King Day weekend, I usually try to remind myself to be attentive in some way to the ever present need in our society to advocate and work toward racial reconciliation. When I think of this task, I usually think of my father, whose example in this regard is inspiring to me. In his first appointment to Commerce, Georgia in the 1970s while in seminary at Emory University, my father was the victim of a crime because of his choice to be an outspoken advocate of racial reconciliation. Commerce was the kind of town northeast of Atlanta where the community attempted to make their prejudice known to the world with signs posted at the city limits declaring exactly who wasn’t welcome. So, perhaps some might say my father should have “known better” than to speak prophetically about God’s vision for racial reconciliation, but he felt the call of Jesus to live and advocate for what was right. As word got around town that my parents held the values they did, someone shot their dog and left it on their front porch as a warning.
I can’t imagine what my dad must’ve thought when three years later his son, who was a big fan of the Dukes of Hazard, slapped a confederate flag sticker on the seat of his tricycle, or when 11 years later, after having been steeped in the truth of the need for racial reconciliation and better justice for minorities, I felt the twang of southern pride plucking my heartstrings and had a little rebel flag in my room next to my baseball pennants and Ferrari posters. Though the Confederate flag may have been a gray area, overt racist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan were not, and I was proud to stand next to my dad in the mid 1990s when the KKK let it be known they planned to come to my hometown of Arkadelphia and have a rally. My dad met with other black and white ministers in that town which was a demographically even split of black and white residents. They organized a counter-rally of church people and civic leaders called “Arkadelphia Together,” and surrounded the small gathering of rednecks while holding hands: a black and white chain singing “we shall overcome.” The Klansmen got the picture—their century was drawing to a close, and they weren’t welcome in the next one.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”Martin Luther King Jr.
Though I may not have been born early enough to see the civil rights era, I was glad to have the chance to see someone live out the ideals formed therein. And while the “arc of the moral universe has bent closer to justice” in the 35 years of my own life, it still hasn’t touched ground. The biggest enemy of racial reconciliation is ignorance, and when ignorance is intentional, that is a travesty. I was hearing recently from someone whose daughter had asked in her Oklahoma history class on the outskirts of Tulsa, “why haven’t we learned anything about the Tulsa race riot?” The teacher’s answer was to send her to the principal’s office for questioning the methodology of the teacher. If our shameful history is swept under the rug, the opportunity for racial reconciliation is thrown out in the trash. This is one reason I’m so happy the John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park is located where it is—in the midst of the hottest section of Tulsa to experience a resurgence of economic and cultural development. Need an idea for a day off on the 3 day weekend? Go see it! Want to start the weekend off by doing something substantial for racial reconciliation? Go to the spaghetti dinner raising money for the legal and medical expenses incurred by Pearl Pearson, a deaf black man who was struck multiple times in the face by police officers who pulled him over in Oklahoma City. It is Thursday night (1/16) between 5-7pm Location changed to Garnett Assembly of God church at 2930 S. Garnett Road, Tulsa, OK, See http://www.pearlpearson.com/ for more details. Though we live in a better world than we did in the last century, there is still much to be done in the way of racial reconciliation. That will be the focus of our worship service on the distinctive elements of Christian doctrine and worship this coming Sunday.