Future hope and current truths

March 13th, 2015

This article is part of Ministry Matters' ongoing collection of responses to President Obama's Selma speech. Follow the project as it grows and join the discussion at www.ministrymatters.com/SelmaSpeech

March 7, 2015 marked the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March. Fifty years removed from Bloody Sunday and the pursuit of justice and protection under the law. Fifty years removed from the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson and hundreds of others who died in the pursuit of voting rights, desegregation, fair housing and fair employment practices. The innocent blood that was shed at the Edmund Pettus Bridge was joined with the innocent blood of four girls killed while attending Sunday School two years prior in Birmingham.

President Obama gave, what I believe to be, one of the greatest speeches by a president as he commemorated this historic march. In his speech — with an emphasis on the inclusive “we” as Americans encouraged to shed our “cynicism” — he affirmed that black lives matter and cast a vision for all people. All citizens are responsible for “perfecting the Union.”

While Selma was mentioned as one of many historic places and times in the formation of our country, it has been lifted by our president as the crossroads where faith and hope triumphed over fear. A place where our “destiny has been decided.”

As a bishop of the Church and a black person in America, I have never had the luxury of believing in a sanitized view of history which portrays the innocence of America. In the words of Cornell West, “Although we’ve experienced the worst of America, ‘we’ still believe that the best of America can emerge.” We have the theology, and the Christian mandate, to transform the world. Selma is a current reminder that love and courage in the face of opposition can plant seeds of future hope and shed light on current truths.

The Church must join the president and have the courage to acknowledge that what happened in Ferguson, and what still happens in other places, can no longer be “sanctioned by law or custom.” The Church must demonstrate loudly and clearly that love expressed in the public square is justice that transforms the world.

When the movie “Selma” was released, I invited my Appointive Cabinet to all go and see it together. We have continued to see ourselves as part of the big human family in a country that must not be afraid to be self-critical. We must possess what President Obama called “moral imagination.”

While the Church too often stumbles and staggers on matters of disagreement, we must insist on a revival of forward marching to the promised land of a beloved community. A community where bridges connect what was to what can be. A community of love that is expressed in justice for all. To that vision, I am committed.

Be encouraged.

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