A Little Farther Down the Path: Between the World and Me

I first learned of Ta-Nehisi Coates through his writing in The Atlantic magazine. His article titled “The Case for Reparations” in the June 2014 issue is one of the finest examples of long-form journalism I have ever read. The article’s subhead effectively summarizes his point: Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, New York City, 2012

By the time I read that article, a similar thesis had been percolating in my brain forseveral years. My thinking did not address the question of reparations, and I don’t think Coates really believes that will ever really materialize. His larger point, I believe, was that, while some kind of monetary reparation would be fair and helpful, if a strong majority of white Americans would simply come to believe in the justice of the idea, that would go a long way toward healing the gaping wounds left by the historical realities summarized in his article’s subhead. Continue reading

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The Dream Must Never Die

In his first address to the nation as president, following the resignation of Richard Nixon, who had been forced out of office by the Watergate scandal just ahead of likely impeachment, Gerald Ford opened with these words: “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”

I was a twenty-four-year-old fundamentalist pastor at the time, and like everybody I knew, I had voted for Nixon when he was elected to a second term in 1972. I had followed the Watergate hearings on TV, sort of, and I knew that all the “chattering class”—politicians and news analysts especially—regarded the matter as a constitutional crisis with the potential to destabilize our government, weaken our economy, and jeopardize our international influence. It would be years, however—after I managed to disentangle myself from that intellectually restrictive thought system—before I would understand just how serious the crisis really was and how much of a national nightmare it had really been. Continue reading

MLK: He Taught Me to Dream

I grew up with a deep respect for persons, especially Christians, who refused to compromise their convictions even when standing firm cost them dearly. I remember sitting on the living room floor with my brother and sister while my mother read to us from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and Through Gates of Splendor, Elisabeth Elliot’s moving account of the death of her husband, Jim, and four others at the hands of those to whom they were attempting to bring the message of the Gospel. On those occasions, as my parents led us in prayer for a variety of concerns, I silently prayed for courage to be faithful to my convictions, even, if need be, to the point of death.

Nobody from the modern era embodies the idea of the courage of convictions better than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King was born in Atlanta on January 15, 1929. He was assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968. In recognition of his role in the effort to secureMartin Luther King civil rights and racial equality in this country, and to celebrate his life as an example of courageous leadership in the face of overwhelming opposition, the US Congress in 1983 designated the third Monday in January as Martin Luther King Day. That is today. Continue reading

I Feel It In My Gut

Most people who know me would agree that I have a high regard for human intellect and the potential of the human mind. Many of those same people, then, might be surprised to learn that most of the really important decisions I have made in my life were based more on intuitive sensing than on cognitive reasoning.

For example, I met Shirley Clairmont on February 12, 1973. She played the piano for a series of meetings at which I was the guest preacher. We were married exactly three months later, on May 12, 1973. There were numerous reasons why it would have been prudent for us to postpone our marriage while we got to know one another better and worked out a variety of practical and logistical issues. More important than all of that, however—at least as far as I was concerned—was the sense, deep inside of me, that it was the right thing to do. She apparently agreed, and next spring we will celebrate our forty-third wedding anniversary. Continue reading

Please Change That Horrible Name

If I am totally honest, I will admit that the impetus behind my movement in a more progressive direction over the past few years has been more ethical than theological. I can illustrate what I mean with the following question. Why are so few people, especially conservative Christians, offended, embarrassed, or possibly enraged over the name of the NFL franchise in Washington, DC? Continue reading

Today’s Church: Thermometer Or Thermostat?

MLK (1)Fifty years ago today, April 16, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote his famous “Letter From A Birmingham Jail.” He had been arrested on April 12 for participating in a non-violent demonstration against racial segregation in violation of an injunction, issued by a Circuit Court judge two days earlier, against “parading, demonstrating, boycotting, trespassing and picketing.”

Dr. King acknowledged that he had broken the law, but he defended his act (and rightly so) on the grounds that some laws are just and some are unjust. In his letter he wrote, “Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.”

Continue reading