I will continually go back to “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” on this weekend. Every time I draw something new from his challenge to folks like me… white moderates. I hear his rebuke to me more clearly each time.
I will continually draw from Dr. King throughout the year. This is a lesson I’ve established in these past few years, especially since moving to Alabama. His works and books on his life’s work are ever in front of me.
I continue to drive myself deeper not just into learning but into action. In the past few months there have been new challenges in the work the Lord has laid before me and each time I hesitate I hear Dr. King’s voice call out to the hesitant white moderate.
Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.
When I begin to get at what has long been privilege for us as whites in this part of the country, I find resistance. It comes in questions. It comes in inaction. It comes in unreturned phone calls. It comes in delay… delay… delay.
I can tend to pull back and think that group just needs more time. I hear Dr. King again.
...I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
This is too often my position. Year after year those words pound into me. What I’ve also learned is that social media “action” is no action at all as well. It is a negative peace just as much as waiting for the system to have time to adjust. I am no more “active” in my tweeting than in my hope that the school system will just get with the program and hire more minority teachers because it is the right thing to do.
This is my annual great hesitation because this weekend has come to mean so much to me and then the social media shame that launches from “social media activists” who think their tweeting shame at whites who post anything about Dr. King is bogus because somehow we don’t say anything about Dr. King’s supposed socialism or other “radical” acts.
Sure, there are those who only quote Dr. King on days like this. But it is not “action” to shame tweet at those folks. It is a negative peace.
This day and this weekend is a weekend to motivate me. It is a memorial to me. Just as Easter is a time for reflection on the power of the Cross and the rest of the year is a call to live in the power of the resurrection, this weekend has become for me a time of reflection and motivation.
Just as the Gospel story of the death and resurrection of Christ is familiar yet motivating in Easter readings, so too is this letter from Dr. King.
I am most certainly the white moderate that needs Dr. King’s rebuke. But it is Dr. King I will hear and not the “slacktivists” of our day. It is John Lewis I will hear. It is James Cone I will hear. And it is their model I will follow for they certainly wrote and they wrote with power, but they also acted… and action is what I desperately need to model in my own life.
So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.
The power structures of our day are consoled by the silence of the Church. They are either consoled by the silence because they don’t want to hear the prophetic voice, or there are certainly power structures who have deceived the Church into silence and bought off their voice. Across the theological spectrum, the Church is all too quiet.
But the quiet is not broken in a tweet that rebukes others for even daring to mention Dr. King. That is only a clanging cymbal. It is noise. It is not a clear call that is so desperately needed today.
May we have the quiet broken in our lives that moves us from our keyboards and phone apps and shoves us into getting face to face with the system that still holds down people of color in this culture.
This year, may we get in front of school boards who hesitate to extend going hiring practices to people of color. May we get in front of legislators who still insist on writing racist laws that keep people of color unequally incarcerated. May that continue to the legislators and judges who upend the will of the people who call for equal voting rights.
It is time to get face to face with the systems that still lock down freedom.
Get over your Twitter activism. Get a meeting with a parole board member… and don’t take one picture of your time there just so you can self-righteously post it to your Instagram. Do the quiet work that deeply disturbs systems of oppression.
When you finally get face to face with folks, the oppressive powers will feel far more pressure than any one tweet you can do.
Let us ALL act. Let us ALL get up and have one conversation… two conversations… just one meeting… this year that we didn’t have last year. Just one more. ALL of us. And then, let’s talk about ALL of us living up to Dr. King’s clarion call instead of rebuking each other.