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Happy Martin Luther King Day!

January 21st, 2012
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It is time once again for me to make my annual comments about Martin Luther King day. Sadly, every year when I do this I get the same sort of responses, no matter how hard I try to be clear on why this day is so important to so many of our African-American brothers and sisters, and, why it is so important for all of us in this nation.

Sure enough there are those quite happy to entirely ignore the point of my post and gas on about how Martin Luther King was this, that, or another thing, about how his theology was bad, or how he was a liberal or immoral, and on and on. And indeed, he was, in several respects. I’m not denying that, but the lengths to which some people choose to go simply to stick their head in the sand and not appreciate what Dr. King did for this nation, boggles my mind. I am ashamed to say at least a few Lutheran pastors use this day to go into their whole silly “The Civil War” was not about slavery routine. Unbelievable insensitivity knows of no bounds, not to mention appalling self-imposed ignorance of facts.

I will again however say that such comments display an astounding lack of sensitivity toward, and concern about, the feelings of our fellow Americans who look to Martin Luther King as a significant figure in advancing civil rights in this nation. And there is no question that he did. And please do not, please, do not say, “Some of my best friends are Black.” Oh, really? Do you realize how this makes you sound? Let me put it this way: Some of my best friends are left-handed. I even married a left-handed person. See how hollow that sounds?

I do wonder how many of us who have less melanin in our skin have ever shared a meal with a Black person, in our home, actually have spoken at length with them as people, not as “Blacks.” Similarly, how many Blacks have had Whites into their homes and hosted them for a meal and spoke to them as people, not White? I know the problem cuts both directions, but on MLK day, this is not the appropriate time for White folk to go on and one about their gripes with Black folks.

And then, I hear from people telling me how terrible the civil rights movement has been for African-Americans, and how it has only led to what is now a permanent underclass in this country, etc. etc. There is plenty to talk about here. But that the Civil Rights movement was a good thing in many ways is undeniable.

Would you have preferred the continuation of Jim Crow laws, lynchings and telling people they can’t drink from certain water fountains, use certain bathrooms or ride only in the back of the bus or not be served a meal just because their skin is dark? Would you feel the same if the laws were in reverse and it was the white-skinned who could not do these things? “Good Christians” are not immune are they? I still have a vivid memory of angst being expressed by some members of my home congregation when Black folks showed up once for Holy Communion, from the common cup! And that was only in the late 1960s, not that too far long ago.

After the Civil War and well into the 1960s many, many African-Americans were still treated nearly like slaves in so many places. Despite the Civil War, many states made it impossible for blacks to vote and via indentured servanthood [aka sharecropping] created a serfdom across the South. Can we be a bit sensitive to the bitter, hard and long struggle of a people brought to this country as slaves?” [Yes, yes, I know blacks sold other blacks into slavery in Africa...and yes, African-Americans can be as prejudiced against others because of race as anyone else].

So, I apologize for what appears to be a gloomy post, but it is always sad that whenever anyone tries to say anything about Civil Rights, particularly on MLK day, we have to have a litany from white folks criticizing, whining and complaining, thus quite entirely missing the point of MLK and his meaning for our nation and for so many of our fellow citizens.

I’m actually seeing signs that the times they are a changing. When I was a child it was inevitable that we would refer to African-American children as “that black kid” and no doubt they would refer to us “as that white kid.” My own children have delighted me in that they have spoken of friends by name and never once have referred to them as “that black kid” or “you know, my Chinese friend.” They’ve had friends over to the house that we have heard about from school for weeks and I’ve been delighted to find they are African or Chinese, and not once did our kids refer to them by race, but by their qualities as persons. A good sign indeed and this is where we need to be. No, it is unrealistic to believe we will ever be “color blind.” That’s not what I’m suggesting, but it would be great if we would not always jump to race as the first way to describe a person.

Recently in an interview on 60 minutes one of my favorite actors, Morgan Freeman, laid it out in a blunt way. He just wants to be referred to as a person, not a black man, but as a man. And he thought the notion of a “black history” month to be absurd, and even insulting, trying to suggest his “history” could be reduced to a month on the calendar.

I believe it is a necessary and good thing in the kingdom of the left, to work for that day when across this great nation people will be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. And I suspect that if people’s skin tone was a bit more dark than it may be now they might have some better sense of why this is a dream worthy of our full support, and sympathy. So, I say, “Happy MLK day.”

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Categories: Culture
  1. Karyn
    January 18th, 2010 at 13:22 | #1

    I like your post and happen to agree that the Civil Rights movement was worthwhile.

    Now your post begs a question that I must ask: So Pastor, are you acknowledging that a social justice vocation might be a worthwhile, fulfilling, even scripturally honorable vocation for a Christian? Maybe even worth devoting one’s vocational life to or giving up one’s temporal life for if called upon to do so? (I am in no way suggesting that this should be done from the pulpit or by parish pastors in their role as parish pastors.)

    As far as the Church, in general, my one observation is that as we all know, support for social justice, like support for social mercy, is not unique to LCMS theology, or even Christian theology, but that does not make these goals any less worthy of support. All social groups, including church bodies, are tempted to pull out of social collaborations when they cannot corner the political market on the achievement, even when by honest Scriptural evaluation, the purpose of the collaboration is God-pleasing. Let us not fall prey to this temptation.

    • January 18th, 2010 at 15:03 | #2

      Karyn: thanks for your interesting comment. I must confess I’m not up on the verbiage du jour, but any vocation that is lawful and honorable and in accord with God’s will is one Christians can gladly take up and live out. I really do not think one has to say a word about King’s theology, right or wrong, of his Christianity, to speak favorably about his work. I think here is where the doctrine of the two kingdoms comes in handy. I’m not sure what you mean when you say: “All social groups, including church bodies, are tempted to pull out of social collaborations when they cannot corner the political market on achievement.” It seems you have some specific examples in mind, which I encourage you to share in order to lend clarity to your comment.

  2. January 18th, 2010 at 21:33 | #3

    Well boy do I feel naive! You mean there actually are people who find the sentiments of this post objectionable? I find it wonderfully refreshing and wholly Christian that a fellow paleface would offer these kinds cheers on MLK Day.

  3. jmark
    January 19th, 2010 at 10:38 | #5

    Pastor Paul,
    What is the relevance of MLK to a Lutheran blog?

  4. Richard
    January 19th, 2010 at 17:10 | #7

    Thank you for your post, Pastor McCain. I still hear white Christians refer to MLK disparagingly. It’s only by the grace of God that we have brothers in the faith of different colors given some of this remaining attitude. Thank you for speaking up and reminding us of the importance of the kingdom of the left hand. Wish we had more pastors like you.

  5. Lindsey
    January 20th, 2010 at 14:17 | #8

    Bobby Norfolk (an animated Civil War presenter who lives in the St Louis area) did a presentation last year in which he said, “In 200 years the African American has gone from the slave house to the White House. What an accomplishment!”

    I couldn’t agree more. Let’s keep this in mind every year as we celebrate MLK Day.

    • January 20th, 2010 at 15:02 | #9

      His math is a bit off. Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, so in 148 years the African American went from the slave house to the White House. We have a long, long way to go, and both African American and White American bear the burden for continuous improvement in race relations in this nation.

  6. Rev. David Likeness
    January 16th, 2012 at 14:21 | #10

    While at St. Louis Sem, I was a field worker at Transfiguration
    Lutheran Church near downtown St. Louis. I taught 5th and
    6th grade confirmation class. When I introduced the textbook
    as a catechism written by Dr. Martin Luther, I asked if they had
    ever heard of him. One girl raised her hand and said, ” Everyone
    knows Dr. Martin Luther King.” This was my introduction to
    inner city black children in St. Louis, in 1965. Transfiguration sat
    on the edge of 40,000 blacks living in high rise apartments called
    Igo-Pruitt. I really enjoyed teaching Confirmation classes to them.

  7. Rev. David Likeness
    January 16th, 2012 at 16:23 | #11

    One more fond memory of Transfiguration, St. Louis,
    was Thanksgiving Day. My wife and I had our first
    Thanksgiving Feast at the Coleman’s home. We were
    newly weds that September and were invited to their
    home for a delicious meal. We were invited because
    I was the volleyball coach for their two daughters.
    That season the Transfiguration High School girls won
    the City/Suburb Lutheran League Championship. Then
    my wife and I hosted the team at our apt. for a victory dinner.

  8. Rahn Hasbargen
    January 16th, 2012 at 21:40 | #12

    Whenever I think of a national holiday named after a person (Martin Luther King Day, Columbus Day, etc.) I remind myself that God uses imperfect people to accomplish Hs perfect will. We can focus on the imperfect person, or we can focus on the perfect will of God. As it says in the book of Joshua, “choose you this day whom you will serve…but as for me and for my house, we will serve the Lord”. I have a feeling Rev. McCain, that you may be tallking about what I am thinking…..

  9. January 17th, 2012 at 00:49 | #13

    It’s beyond me that anyone with the sense to be a regular reader of this blog would find your annual recognition of DrMLKJr Day anything but challenging, thought-provoking and even inspiring. Thank you again for posting this.

  10. Tim Stout
    January 19th, 2012 at 14:04 | #14

    I usually find the MLK Jr. Day blog interesting and worth while, but I think that this one was overly shaped by the angry desenters. I recommend just doing what you originally set out to do, honor the many great accomplishments of MLK Jr., overlooking his many sins, admiring how far we have come as a people, and looking at how far we have yet to go, and just ignore all the desentors, block their nasty posts, and pretend that they neither exist nor matter for the day. Sometimes talking about how much we don’t like racism just keeps the fire burning.

    • January 19th, 2012 at 14:18 | #15

      I think I’ll keep up my annual tradition. Because, it needs saying, every year, but thanks for sharing your point of view on this.

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