Pastor’s Keyboard: The more things change, the more they stay the same. As most of you know, this weekend is dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King. When most of us think of Dr. King, we think of him as the face of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. We think of the March on Washington (I’m proud to say my grandmother was there), the bus boycott, and of Dr. King’s inspiring sermons on the dignity of all God’s sons and daughters. Yet toward the end of his life, he was not as popular as he had been earlier in his life. Why? It’s because he started to speak out on peace, and justice for the poor. These were very controversial issues at the time that even caused minority communities to divide. He was told by many, including some within the civil rights community that he should stick to the issues he had fought for previously, and stay away from speaking out against the injustice that caused many poor minorities to suffer. To not speak about peace in a time when the US war in Vietnam was heating up. Although the Vietnam War remains controversial, even to this day with opinions still very divided, we can all recognize that the desire to look for peace is good.
When I was in college, I took a class on the Vietnam War that was taught by two professors. They only addressed the class together on the first day and the last day of the semester. One teacher defended the war as a good and just war, while the other gave reasons he believed it was not good and not just. This gave the students (none of which were alive at the time of the war) a unique opportunity to form their own opinions on the war by hearing perspectives from both sides of the argument. This was especially important to me because my dad served two tours of duty there, and he is still affected by it too this very day.
So why do I mention this aspect of the life of Dr. King on a day when we usually highlight his work for Civil Rights? Because the further we move away from the great figures of our past, the more we tend to simplify them and even take away the parts of their story that are not so easy to accept, or that they did not complete. We can find it easy to see only the great battles that they won and not the ones that were controversial, or the issues that really tested the metal’s they had earned. Regardless of where you might stand on the issue of the Vietnam War, and the ways in which Dr. King sought to awaken the consciences of Americans to it and to the gross inequality felt by many born into poverty. From the Mountains of Appalachia, to the concrete towers of inner city New York Public housing, he sought to speak up for what he saw as injustice.
What about you, and even myself? Do we stay silent when we see some injustice because of fear of the opinions of those who might disagree with us? Often, I think that it would have been much easier for Dr. King to stick with one area rather than speak on these two controversial ones. After all, he had already risked his life and his family’s safety in leading the Civil Rights movement. In choosing to speak out on these areas of peace and justice, he risked losing the popularity and the reputation he had built up over a lifetime of work. Yet he was not concerned about this. In Dr. King’s last sermon, the night before he was killed, he was already looking beyond to the only judgement that will really matter, which is the judgement of the Lord. He knew that we will all be judged on how we are, not only name the things we see as wrong or unjust, but for how we fight against them with the passion and voice the Lord has given us. This test lies before us all today; Not only with the dignity and rights of minorities, but also the dignity of the life of the unborn, the sick and elderly, the dignity of immigrants and refugees, and for religious freedom itself.
These issues span across the different parties, and remind us that we must all look to how we can stand up and not be afraid to say that, as Christians, we will not be silent and not be deterred. Our voice was given to us by the Lord and we must use it when it is easy to speak up and when it is not, less we be condemned by our silence, fear, or by our ignorance of those causes that the Lord calls us to defend. These are not easy times, nor easy issues to stand up for. Yet the call is the same, and we must answer that call today. May God grant us the resolve and courage. Let us Stand and be counted!
– Fr. Scott Woods