Last week, I wrote that community is intentional, reciprocal, and painful. Today is the day set aside to honor a man who understood that and lived that out much better than I have.
When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his “Letter From the Birmingham Jail,” he penned a line that has become one of his most well-known: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” If we know that one person is being mistreated, we should not rest until that improper, inhumane, immoral, and sinful behavior stop. We should not rest until everyone is treated as a child of God.
Yet the next few sentences following that great statement stick out to me (italics are mine):
“Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”
When we say things like, “It’s not as bad as it used to be,” or, “Just be patient, it will get better eventually,” or, “Don’t rock the boat, it will work out in the end,” we are perpetuating injustice. Inaction allows the oppressors to continue inflicting evil and the victims to continue suffering.
Dr. King goes on to write, “I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action.”
Let us strive to learn what it means to be a part of the oppressed race. Let us listen without judgment, defensiveness, or rationalization. Let us strive for the vision that will lead to action to root out the injustices that still exist in our world today.
So what do we do? Get involved. Find out what is going on in your community. Find out who needs helps and offer it. Don’t be afraid to admit that your church, your company, your political party, or members of your ethnic group have perpetrated evil. Instead of running from the facts, act to change the facts. If your church has not been welcoming to others outside a certain ethnic or socio-economic group, start inviting more people. If your company has been finding ways to practice illegal hiring practices, report them. If your neighborhood lacks diversity, find ways to invite people in who come from different backgrounds.
The existence of oppressed people is nothing new. When Jesus began His ministry He said He came to preach to the poor, the captive, the blind, and the oppressed. And He was quoting a scripture that was already hundreds of years old! The Law God gave to Moses included instructions for leaving food in the harvest fields so that hungry people could find something to eat.
We need to look around us. We also need to look beyond ourselves. As long as anyone is being mistreated, we must work to bring justice. Let us embrace our “inescapable network of mutuality.”
Let us continue living out the dream; and not just today.
But today is as good a day as any to start.