True(ly Just) Preaching

I attended the Garnett-Nabritt Lecture Series at American Baptist College last week. The theme of the series this year was, “Between Faith and Freedom, a College in the Middle of a Movement”. This year’s series commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Nashville Sit-ins of 1960 that desegregated the lunch counters of downtown Nashville, and began the process of non-violent peaceful protest that ostensibly ended “Jim Crow” in all of Nashville. I say ostensibly because, though there is the appearance of integration, it is only a fascade, and even worse equality has still not been achieved. Inequality exists on several levels not only in Nashville, but through out the entire nation as well.

The idea that we truly have an integrated society is a fallacy. A truly integrated society would be one in which differences would be accepted, not just tolerated, but truly accepted as equal parts of the society and the conversation. What we have today is a society which accepts people to the extent that they are willing to become a part of the dominant culture. Differences in religion, lifestyle, styles of dress, even language, are tolerated, but they are not generally accepted as equal partners in the society. When the Muslim U.S. Representative from the state of Minnesota wanted to be sworn into office using the text which he holds sacred, the Quran, there was a huge public outcry. In those very same halls of congress are several “closet” homosexuals who fear exposure. Most of these people are stalwart, productive, valuable members and leaders in their communities. If it became public knowledge that they where homosexual however, it would be as if they no longer had any value, or voice in the community. Of course some might point to Harvey Milk and Barney Frank, but they are exceptions rather than the rule. Consider the baggy pants wearing rappers, like Tupak, and Biggie, or even Eminem, whose voices and message are pushed to the margins and considered good only for “entertainment”. The proliferation of “English Only” and “English First” initiatives seeks to further marginalize those who for one reason or another, in one way or another, do not assimilate into the dominant culture.

In 1954 the majority opinion of the Supreme Court of the United States in “Brown v. The Board of Education” stated that separate is inherently unequal. While this may be true, our experience over the last 56 years has been that the opposite is not necessarily true. Integrated is not inherently equal. Ten years into a new century and there are still major disparities in the education of minority children and white children. Dropout rates among children of color, especially males, continues to outpace their ratio of the population. There are still disparities in the quality of teachers, and resources between schools in the same school district but in different sections of town. Minority children are still treated differently than white children, in the same school, as regards suspension, and other forms of discipline.

It is against this backdrop that American Baptist College used the 53rd Annual GNL Series to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Nashville sit-ins. Many of the leaders of that movement, and the Civil Rights Movement of which the sit-ins where but a part, where students at American Baptist College . John Lewis, the late Dr. James Bevel, Dr. Bernard Lafayette, and Dr. C.T. Vivian were all students. These young men had responded to the call of God on their lives to the ministry of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As they learned more about that Gospel, and that call they became aware that there was an inescapable connection between service to God, and service to humanity. They came to understand afresh the real meaning of Jesus’ words in response to the question of which was the greatest commandment:

Jesus answered:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. 38This is the first and most important commandment. 39The second most important commandment is like this one. And it is, “Love others as much as you love yourself.” 40All the Law of Moses and the Books of the Prophets [a] are based on these two commandments. (Matt. 22.37-40, CEV)

For them there is a reality to the words we learned to pray as children; “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven“. These young preachers learned that how we live in relationship to one another right here, and now cannot be separated from how much we say we love and honor God. They learned this, not apart from the gospel of Jesus, but in the context of that Gospel. In the light of the words of Jesus himself as quoted above, and also Jesus’ own theme scripture for his ministry and work among us as recorded in Luke chapter 4:

18“The Lord’s Spirit has come to me, because he has chosen me to tell the good news to the poor. The Lord has sent me to announce freedom for prisoners, to give sight to the blind, to free everyone who suffers, 19and to say, `This is the year the Lord has chosen.’ ” (Luke 4:18-19, CEV)

These young preachers realized that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is necessarily a social gospel, it cannot be anything other. They further realized that ministers of this Gospel cannot be content to simply go along with a status quo that is in direct opposition to the principles of this gospel that is social in nature. This is the reason they marched, sat-in, rode busses, went to jail, and yes, preached. They preached, and still preach, the same Gospel that Jesus preached. They preach a gospel that challenges the status quo. They preach a gospel that said then that things, as they are, have to change. Inequality, and injustice are not of God and we cannot stand idly by , saying and doing nothing.

The circumstances of their time and ours are not dissimilar. Today we face inequality, and injustice in our communities, on our jobs, and in our schools. We are given the choice to assimilate or be pushed to the margins and silenced. This is not loving “your neighbor as much as you love yourself”. Just as the social climate of inequality and injustice has not changed over the last fifty plus years, neither has the nature of this Gospel to which a new generation of young men and women have been called. Now, as then, the challenge for ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, this clearly “social” gospel, is to stand up, speak out, and say that things, as they are, have to change. We may have to march, we may have to demonstrate, we may have to go to jail, and we will definitely have to preach, not only in our words, but in our living and action as well. “The Lord’s Spirit has come to me . . .”

Make A Difference . . . . . For Life ! ! !