What–and who–white Christians believe (MLK Day 2022)


I woke up this MLK morning with insides buzzing, tense skin, and tight chest.

As I ran through all of the things that could be causing these feelings, I came down on one: I really wanted to publish a post on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day. A week ago, I started writing and revising several posts in hope that the Spirit of God would fill the sails of one of them and carry it to you.

That did not happen.

It may be for the best. A lot of people will publish or share thoughts on Martin Luther King, Jr., today. Maybe it is not God’s will that I be one of them this time. Maybe my blog is not the medium God chooses for the message he has for the world today.

The pressure to write on MLK Day does not come from needing to prove that I am one of the good white men. As a Bible-believing Christian, it is a foregone conclusion that I am not good. As a Bible-believing Christian, I admit that my own sinful nature has a hold of me. That prejudice is in my human nature and that racism is part of what nurtured me from youth.

As a Christian, I cannot waste my time or your time trying to prove that I am not sinful and not prone to sin. Even the sins of prejudice and racism. As a Christian, I cannot waste my time or your time trying to earn or prove how righteous I am by, for example, posting about Martin Luther King, Jr. I am not righteous. Nothing I do can make me righteous. Nothing I do can make my own wrongs right or reverse my own sinful nature.

This is Christianity 101.

If I was never prone to prejudice or racism–if I could overcome those sins on my own–why did Jesus Christ have to die and rise again? Why does the Bible have to say, in plain language:

For [Christ] is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us…that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it (Letter to the Ephesians 2:14-16).

Human beings are so incapable of reconciliation on their own that the Son of God had to bring it about at the cost of his own flesh.

So I will not pretend that I do not have a racist bone in my body. I do. Probably many more than one. That confession is to my own shame. All I can do is appeal to the grace of God and submit to the changes he can, and will, work in my life if I choose to be open to them.

So what is the pressure that I feel to write something to you on this day?

I cannot deny that there is something inside me that wants to get out.

I think two things. One of them is what you might think of as “practical.” The other is what you might think of as “scriptural.”

Here is the practical stuff and I’m going to put it in no-frills language. I hope you just think about it after you read it.

One of the great sins of the white Church of Christ fellowship in America is that we, for generations, refused to believe what our Black brothers and sisters in Christ told us about their lives and the world as they knew it.

Generations of Black Christians in America gave their testimonies, told their stories, and told their white brothers and sisters in Christ how to “do justice and love mercy.” Generations of white Christians in America could not and would not believe what their Black brothers and sisters told them.

Over my lifetime in the white Church of Christ fellowship, I note that we will listen to what politicians and pundits tell us about our Black brothers and sisters in Christ, but we will not listen to our Black brothers and sisters themselves. People who are trying to take money and power from us get our attention and loyalty by telling us that our Black brothers and sisters in Christ are the ones who are really trying to take away our money and power. The evidence for who is telling the truth should be plain to see simply by looking at who is getting richer and and more powerful. Is it not the politicians and pundits we choose to believe instead of our own brothers and sisters in Christ?

In Christ, we have a duty and an obligation to believe our brothers and sisters long before we believe any politician or pundit. This includes brothers and sisters in Christ who lived before. Our Black brothers and sisters in Christ have been making their case and sharing their lives for generations; when will we white Christians finally choose to listen and trust?

We need to be careful. I note (from observing myself as well as others), that we can use “fact-finding” and listening as delaying tactics. We can spend our entire lives saying, “tell me that again.” When we do that, we are really hoping to fool ourselves and everyone else into believing that we are doing something when we’re really not doing anything at all. Sooner or later, “tell me that again” simply means: “I really don’t believe you” or “I really don’t intend to do anything about it.”

Now for the “scriptural” thing.

I grew up thinking that MLK Day was a Black holiday for Black Americans.

As I got older, I started to see that MLK Day is an American holiday for all Americans. Dr. King called on his country to live up to the ideals it expressed in its founding documents. What could be more American than that?

But Christians need to know and remember that Dr. King was a Christian pastor and preacher. His reasons for doing what he did came straight from what he believed about God and God’s will and work for the world. Dr. King thought of himself, first and foremost, as a human being, a sinner saved by the grace of God. He thought of himself as one laboring under the Great Commission to “make disciples” for Jesus Christ. For Dr. King, that meant teaching people to act, feel, and think like Jesus Christ. In the life of Jesus Christ, he saw one who acted justly, loved mercy, and walked humbly with God (Book of Micah 6:8).

Dr. King called Christians–first and foremost–to imitate their Christ by living lives of justice, mercy, and humility. Dr. King and those who followed him–mostly Christians–practiced what he preached through peaceful civil disobedience to laws that were not just.

Before our Christ, we Christians who are white have three obligations:

First, we must believe the generations of Black Christians who gave us their testimonies and shared their wisdom with us. We must repent for neither believing them nor trusting them.

Second, we must not use “fact-finding” as a delay tactic or a way to boost our own public image or self-esteem. We must pray that God will show us how we are to act now in response to what we learn.

Third, we must listen to Dr. King and other Black Christian pastors and preachers for who they truly are: Messengers from God to his whole church of Christ. We must act like we believe that these messengers from God are leading us to fulfill the will of God:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Book of Micah 6:8).


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