FROM THE BOUNDARY: Buffalo soldier
Every act of love is a protest against hate and indifference. In the Black Lives Matter protests here there’s been very little love but a surfeit of execration and ‘culture cancel’ which from nowhere surfaced like a great shark from deep water. If the protest leaders and others are right, how did I miss it all these past 25 years?
Well, I turned to a sacred text, my copy of Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’. What a difference. For the Christian, there’s no room for hate, and you really don’t have to be one to understand that. It was foreign to Gandhi too. King’s ‘Letter’ is a masterpiece, persuasive and powerful, yes, but sensitive and Gospel-rich. He too confronted silence and its handmaidens, prevarication and myopia, but in a measured way, not by slogans. To the Church, he said: ‘Don’t say these are social issues with which the Gospel has no real concern; and God forbid you draw on un-Biblical distinctions between body and soul, the sacred and secular.’ And don’t say ‘wait’, either. “The time is always right to do right.” Neither must we fear, nor become disheartened, for even “right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant”. There’s a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws, for “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” “A law which uplifts human personality, is just. A law which degrades it, is unjust.” And if you break it, you break it “openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to face the consequences”.
We carry, he said, the “Gospel of freedom”. It’s a Gospel which needs “non-violent gadflies to create that kind of tension in society which will help men rise from the dark depth of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood”. Have we heard that here? Brotherhood: the brotherhood of all men. In calling for it, King said, we are “co-workers with God” – and we must work for it tirelessly. Yes. How can any Christian person say otherwise?
There are two forces opposing us, King said. One is the force of complacency in those “drained of self-respect and somebodyness”, and in those middle class folk who are insensitive to the problem of the masses. The other is those “dedicated to bitterness and hatred who come close to advocating violence”, those black nationalists whose goal is to spawn the nightmare of racial hatred. Are those forces here?
Well, with the ‘Letter’ very much in mind, I attended for the first protest outside the US Embassy grounds. ‘She who must be obeyed’ didn’t want me to go and found all sorts of reasons to delay departure, not least the weather. And it worked! We arrived at 12:45 p.m. The protesters were gone, moved on by the police. They were still there in a gaggle with nothing to do, but five minutes later they were gone too, and I couldn’t think of a reason to get arrested. I felt I’d let the side down. Did I, I wonder?
I’d gone to show my inconsequential solidarity with a movement which, as I understood it then, protested the barbarous police killing of innocent black men. The murder of George Floyd, never mind his record, must have turned the stomach of everyone save the hardened racist. Enough! Black Lives Matter! For the first time, the ‘Letter’ in my breast pocket, I felt able to voice it in Justice’s name without reference to the sanctity of all lives – and, yes, for a cause so sacred, I was prepared to break the law if push came to shove. Maybe it isn’t a cause of the same order as segregation. But ultimately they strike at the dignity of personhood and the oneness of the Divine order, so they’re really no different. In face of such abominations, how can our hearts not reach out in solidarity with all our Afro-American brothers and sisters? So yes, “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise.” Well, that’s where I stood before I opened the Book of Falsehoods.
Go safely, then – until the next time.
More selfhood, from the boundary: “Live like Jesus did, and the world will listen.” – Gandhi