Every semester I teach a unit in which my students have to read and analyze Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and then write an essay in which they relate King’s words to a contemporary scenario of injustice. They are usually at a loss for ideas, which tells me one of two things–either they are unaware of the world around them, having been buried in text messages and snapchats, or they have not been taught about the world and its failings.
Whose job is it to teach students (kids) how to react responsibly in high-stress situations? To teach them the basic principles of human etiquette and morality? To teach them that disagreements do not equal devaluation of human life?
We have had to work hard the past two years to establish a moral code with our girls. They came without one. Because of our religious beliefs, we uphold fairly high standards. Okay, maybe ridiculously high standards. But they had no standards at all and so I always feel like we have to overcompensate. In addition to the basic rules for life laid out in the Ten Commandments, plus the basic school rules of “be respectful, responsible, and safe,” we also have worked to instill in them the knowledge and firm belief that police officers are here to help us. Police officers keep us safe. Police officers are the good guys.
So what do you do when the good guys fail you? We’re on a steep incline here. I want to teach my children to always, ALWAYS trust the police. I want them to believe in the goodness of humanity. But it isn’t all good. There is hate and anger and ugliness everywhere, and individuals fall prey to that all the time, and they end up representing an entire group in a negative light, and our moral compasses get thrown out of whack.
Which way is true north?
We HAVE to do better. We have to teach our kids better. We have to fight hatred with love and ignorance with enlightenment.
It’s time for the Church to start doing some of the dirty work.
In the “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King, not only an activist but also a Baptist minister, says this:
“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.
But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.”
I can’t think of anything more damning than to be a weak, ineffectual voice, a defender of the status quo. Because our status quo, our silence which sanctions things as they are, is not getting us anywhere. We, the Church, might be the only moral compass left to this country. Where are we? What are we doing? How are we working to combat injustice, racism, hatred, and fear? Yes, it will always be there, because our world is broken and sinful, but we must sandbag against the floodwaters as if our very lives depend on it. They do.
To all my friends who do not check the “white” box: Help me. Help us, the white community. Sometimes we get it wrong. But I have to know that we are all working together to teach the next generation to be better than this.
My prayer today is this prayer, from FIFTY YEARS AGO, which could have been written this morning:
Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.
–Martin Luther King, “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, 1963