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Beyond the Dream?

 

Enough is enough: 50 years on from the death of Martin Luther King, a Baptist minister has a new dream - and a challenge for churches. By Tony Cross 


Micah 6 8
 

I received an email from the Bright Black Forum, a group of Black ministers, announcing a conference with the title Beyond the Dream? The conference seeks to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King. It is important to state that I am not black, so my perspective will be at least slightly different from most of those likely to attend the event.

That said, the question mark started me thinking.

Those of us alive in 1963 will remember where we were when Kennedy was shot, but maybe not when King was similarly singled out five years later. However, everyone will remember the speech he gave a few weeks before Kennedy’s assassination. As I look back, both men were almost bound to be got rid of, as evil will always want to hit out at good, especially when that good wants to change injustice. Look at Calvary.

I am inclined to think that King’s Dream speech is not the real event to focus on, nor is he the real hero of the hour. That belongs to two young women.
 

Claudette Colvin

The first of these is Claudette Colvin. Claudette (pictured) was on a bus in Alabama, when buses had white and ‘coloured’ sections. She was sitting in the correct section but when a white man wanted a seat and the white section was full, she was ordered to get out of her seat.

She refused. She had decided that enough was enough.

Is it surprising to note that the church at the time was largely silent on the injustice of segregation? King was already active in the Civil Rights Movement and looked into the Claudette incident, but it was decided to wait. When the second woman, Rosa Parks, did the same thing nine months later, King and others were able to move the Civil Rights Movement into a more active stage.

How much was achieved may be difficult to assess and will depend on your point of view. I observe that one of the features of how black people were perceived and treated was based on a lack of acceptance. By this I do not mean acceptance in the way that I may accept the mosquito as a fact of life and so I have to tolerate it.

I mean a much deeper acceptance which is referred to by King. When I can accept another as ‘one of us’, like us, with shared experiences as well as shared rights and responsibilities, only then are we all truly accepted.



'There is something far worse at the heart of our society now'

Evil is awfully powerful. In this country intolerance of ‘others’ has grown. There are incredible numbers of white supremist groups in Europe including here in the UK. In King’s day it was who your parents were and more specifically your skin colour that condemned or embraced you. Now that still applies, but it is where you were born or where your parents were born that has become the subject of rejection and abuse, rather than specifically skin tone. It seems that being born in a stable really does make you a horse! Those ‘other’ are not only seen as not like us, they are seen as lesser in every respect.

I want to rail against this with all my energy, however, even amongst Christians I feel I am speaking to deaf ears. So what is beyond the dream? I think I want to go beyond the xenophobic spirit of generalisation. All Nigerians are….while all Romanians are….. I want to go back to Claudette and Rosa. What do we need to say ‘enough is enough’ about? Yes to xenophobia, but there is something far worse at the heart of our society now and I suspect that the xenophobia and racism and the hatred which these generate are just by products. There is something more general and that is social injustice.

Those who are poor, disabled and marginalised are pilloried for being in need and people don’t want someone to get something they haven’t ‘earned’. So we have the ‘deserving poor’ and the undeserving benefit scroungers. Anecdotally it seems that a greater proportion of those poor are not ‘white’ or not of ‘British’ stock. They, their parents or grandparents were not born in the UK. So somehow they don’t matter or deserve as much.

The ‘white British’ are fed the lie that it is foreigners that have caused our problems and robbed ‘us’ of our entitlements. The lie is reinforced in proclaiming that the ‘foreign poor’ are taking what is not entitled to them, namely ‘our money’. So hatred of the ‘other’ is successfully generated. Those who suffer as a result feel betrayed and their sense of injustice also breeds hatred.



A new dream

So my ‘dream’ is rather more modest than King’s. In the context of a right wing press who pedal half truths about 'foreigners’ and politicians who play to the fears of ‘immigrants’, claiming they are ‘taking over’, I am not optimistic for change. I don’t think we can turn the tide, even within the church. Those who want to exploit the situation for political ends are investing too much into their activities and churches are often too frightened to take them on for fear of being accused of engaging in (party) politics.

But I do have a dream. My dream is that in churches up and down our land, people will start to have their eyes and hearts open to what the scriptures like Amos 4&5, Isaiah 61 and Micah 6 speak of. Namely, the Justice that God expects of us. I dream that as a result, churches will confess their failure to stand up for the oppressed in our own land and overseas and want to see real change.

Imagine what might happen if only one quarter of the members of every church were to:

 
  • write to their MPs demanding the reversal of cuts to benefits for those who are poor, disabled, homeless;

  • demand action for the millions of households officially living in poverty and attention to the needs of those not even managing on what they earn?

  • dare to demand not that our overseas aid was cut, but rather doubled to promote justice worldwide.


We must no longer accept the lines that ‘we are already spending more’ and ‘we are targeting those most in need.’ Especially when there are tax cuts for big business and the most wealthy and a blind eye is turned to the £40 billion in tax evasion/avoidance that is lost to the Treasury. These exemptions are used by the most wealthy and we no longer need to hear talk of ‘magic money trees’. To use King’s words, we do not believe there is not enough money in the bank. Now is the time to say enough is enough.

Well. It is only a dream.

There is a postscript. I know many who will read this will say there is no point. It will not happen, but that is just the point. I want everyone who refuses to join me in saying ‘enough is enough’ to know that God thinks justice is overdue and that this is a prophetic indictment on those who turn a blind eye. I suspect that that is the point of the Dream speech. It is not that it changed very much but that it stands as an indictment against the Islamic extremist and the white Supremist together with all who will proclaim an ‘us’ and ‘them’.

It calls us to sit with Claudette and Rosa and shout ‘enough is enough’ in God’s name. 



Image | Claudette Colvin | Wikimedia Commons | Public domain

 


Beyond the Dream? A conference marking the 50th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jr. takes place on 24 April at Highgate Baptist Church in Birmingham. More details here.


Tony Cross is a retired Regional Minister. He now spends most of his time in activities beyond the local church

 

Baptist Times, 23/03/2018
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