It is an opportunity for Americans to pause and contemplate the state of race relations in the United States, and in the world. We have come a long way in the struggle for civil right in this country, and recent events have reminded us that we still have a long way to go.
I was recently in Memphis, the city where Dr. King was assassinated. Do you remember that day? He was in Memphis helping the sanitation workers organize for safer working conditions and human dignity. Their slogan, which you still see in banners and murals, was “I am a man.” It wasn’t about gender. It was about humanity. “I, too, am human.”
Dr. King was shot as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, one of the few motels in Memphis at which African-Americans were welcome. His assassin shot him from a rooming house across the street. Today both the rooming house and the motel are part of a memorial—the National Civil Rights Museum. The Museum focuses not only on the struggle for racial equality in the United States. It also looks at the struggle globally, lifting up Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Mahatma Gandhi and many others.
Last week I was in East Germany, visiting sites important to the Reformation, and also learning about “The Velvet Revolution.” In Leipzig we learned of the role of the churches in praying for freedom, and in empowering people to engage in massive demonstrations of non-violence. It was these huge non-violent demonstrations, in large measure, that led to the opening up of the totalitarian state. And it began in the churches. And they relied on the example and the writings and the inspiration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The churches in East Germany were a powerful force for justice.
The East German state was officially atheistic, and Christians were penalized for standing with the church. We live in a country that prides itself on freedom of religion. Our churches have both an opportunity and an obligation to make a difference in society. Some congregations work at issues of hunger, through hunger appeals and food banks. Others are involved in advocacy on either a local or state or national level.
As we celebrate Martin Luther King Day, let us ask ourselves how our churches are a force for justice.
Bishop Jessica Crist