I do not think Martin Luther King Jr. would be the least bit surprised by our country having a black president. In fact, I think he would be more surprised by how little diversity there is in Congress. King demonstrated a deep faith that God will bring justice to the world. It was this faith that gave him the confidence to speak the truth of God’s Word without fear or compromise. It is precisely this lack of fear that allows truth to win out in the end, though we need much more of this fearlessness and truth for the whole of his vision to be realized.
It continues to be fear that drives the most damaging racism in this country, which is demonstrated in the statistics of our courts and prisons. It is out of fear rather than truth that causes higher conviction rates and longer sentences for minorities.
It is fear that causes our country to sell speech rights to the highest bidder rather than being brave enough to amplify the voice of the poor. It is fear of lack that leads us to reinforce a system that rewards the building of many barns to hoard wealth more than the long, hard work of the poor.
It is fear that causes us to regularly sacrifice courageous freedom for the cowardly protection of security that does not weigh the cost of collateral damage or mass invasion of privacy. Fear causes us to hide behind the trigger end of a gun, while courage is embodied by willingness to stand for true freedom even in the face of threats of violence and death.
King’s message will continue to bring us toward the justice of God as long as there are people with the courage to speak it. This courage is not a faith in the goodness of people, but in the power and love of God. King’s speeches were sermons rooted in scripture and utterly dependent upon the promises of God. It is in God’s promise of love that we can learn to love each other as equals. It is in God’s promise of abundance that we can learn to provide for all. It is in God’s promise of victory that can give us the courage to defy war and violence at every turn. If we can learn to live completely free from these fears, we too will share in King’s confidence that God’s justice will win, and be part of movement bringing it about.
The Rev. Jamie Arrison is pastor of Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, Haverhill.