Friday, July 17, 2020

Walking the Path of Peace: WWMLKJD?

The black community in the United States has endured a long history of suffering and discrimination that denied them equality of opportunity in most areas of American life, including barriers to educational attainment and career development. Despite the presence of institutional racism and the conditions of poverty among black Americans throughout centuries of slavery and then a century of post-slavery American life, the black family and community remained remarkably strong, complete with inspiring and triumphant stories of success in the face of torrential struggle. The strength within their faith communities became the support for one of the most successful civil rights movements the world has ever seen.

From this black community of intact faith and family rose Martin Luther King Jr. A conservative man of faith with a forward looking vision who steered a nation away from the hate and destruction of a race war and toward peace and liberty. Now in dismay, Americans are once again increasingly fearful as they witness city streets aflame in race riots in many of our largest cities, and it would be wise for us to step back and ask, "What would Martin Luther King Jr. Do?" (WWMLKJD)

Speaking of how injustice must be overcome in civil society Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. I am not unmindful that violence often brings about momentary results... But in spite of temporary victories, violence never brings permanent peace."

The key in this truth is the context. Even in a civil society, a society of basically good men and based on the rule of law, there will arise injustice but in such a society it is upon the principles of law and order that justice will be achieved. Martin Luther King Jr. would have been unsuccessful leading a peaceful movement for civil liberties in North Korea, but he had confidence in the goodness of his fellow citizens and he knew the foundations of this Nation were sound. He understood the people and principles upon which justice could be achieved. We can put our trust in those same principles, guided by the goodness of our fellow Americans, and walk the same path of peace to reestablish justice for all.

Those who are suffering in the socio-economic prisons of intercity slums, and have languished there for generations now, this appeal to the rule of law has begun to feel extremely empty and hopeless and it's critical for those of us living in stable middle class communities with upward mobility to stretch our perspective that we might be able to imagine how the current plight of inner city blacks feels and colors their perspective of our Nations foundations.

Dr. King's observed that "a riot is the language of the unheard," and we would do well to start listening. There is a growing desperation because of the injustice of poverty and crime that is spilling over into violent riot and angry discourse. This violent rage may be understandable but it does nothing but inflame the fear and widen the racial divide. The tide of violence and anger will not bring peace, justice or equality but even those black Americans who know this are left wondering, "How then will we be heard? Where is the path to peace?"

I propose that all Americans, black and white (or any shade in between) step back so that we can look back with a fresh perspective to the generations who showed us the path because they walked it. I quote Martin Luther King Jr. today, because he is one we can look to, one who walked the path of peace, he understood that, "Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend... unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant."

Martin Luther King Jr. did not create the path of peace, he walked in it, he followed the footsteps of another who was the perfect example for us all. I can imagine that in the difficult struggles he faced he often asked himself WWJD? (In case you don't know that one it's: What Would Jesus Do?) He articulated beautifully the transcendent truths of Christ's gospel and practiced their public application in leading people to choose love and forgiveness as the most powerful and lasting catalyst for public change.

Those of us who are capable of advocating for ourselves must not be blind to the reality of those who do not hold the same capacity. We must understand as Martin Luther King Jr. did that, "Human progress is never automatic or inevitable... every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle..." And I would add fortune. Some are born more fortunate than others. Some are blessed with more stable home environments, greater educational opportunities, and God given capacities to move their lives in more positive direction. Dr. King understood that overcoming the struggle and realizing the victory would come only through "the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated people." He knew he was uniquely situated, placed in a position by God, and given particular talents from Him to serve those who needed his leadership.

I am not looking for the rise of Dr. King, but I am asking us to examine what the principles he modeled could mean for us? To paraphrase a favorite movie quote, "Those of us who have the ability to act have the responsibility to act." (National Treasure: Nicholas Cage sums up the Declaration of Independence in one sentence.) Those of us who have been blessed with the ability to advocate for the unheard, for the desperate, for the downtrodden must come forward and do our best to articulate truth, to inspire love, and to lead our nation away from the madness of violence.

To simply watch as those who currently "lead" use the discord and desperation to foment political trenches for their own gain; to simply stand by in quiet sadness and witness the break down of law and order; to step aside as this futile pursuit of justice results in anarchy and robs society of both justice and liberty for all; remember Dr. Kings warning, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

It concerns me greatly as I read and observe people retreating, afraid to engage because of the ugliness that has taken hold. I notice it among sensible caring people, black and white, I too have been guilty of this. I think it is the powerful pull of self-preservation that is the source of our silence. The ugly vitriol of social media threads is disgusting and gut wrenching. The media narrative foments the widening gap between black and white. I think that we simply determine that an attempt to communicate is too perilous and we turn away hoping that others will put out the fire. We simply can't afford to remain silent and unengaged the consequence of that choice will not leave us unscathed, it will matter little what the color of your skin is when the foundations of liberty crumble. Dr. King would say, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

And so I return to my default, the solution to all the great trials of my life, which is to look to true principles, principles that generations before understood and used to through off the chains of oppression. I believe in the basic goodness of the American people and believe there are enough of us who are capable of demonstrating to desperate downtrodden the path of peace. I believe that by our resolve and passionate concern we can be the next greatest generation that will hold up the torch of freedom and justice for all. Let us clime out of our political trenches and use the sword of truth to call for a cease fire and then let those who are able to act take the responsibility to lead.

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