Stride Toward Freedom

Today marks the end of something that defies most explanations and offers a new beginning that will likely be like other beginnings we’ve seen before. Trumpism will lose its prominence in the White House formal but is likely here to stay. And Biden, while I hope he leads us forward in a healthier way in numerous regards, is a politician offering only what the State can offer.

It seems like such a juxtaposition to have experienced MLK day on Monday and then have to grapple with the bizarre state of our country and culture two days later as we make a massive change.

Christianity Today offered the following perspective on MLK then and now and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since I saw this:

How can this be? How can someone go from such a massive majority hating him while alive only to love him even more after he’s dead? I’d offer at least two explanations.

First, it’s easier to hold up ideas than face realities. I’m amazed how many people (especially Christians) will tell me that of course racism is a sin that must be challenged. That’s an idea. But when we look at how racism plays out in things like white privilege or white supremacy I’m usually met with animosity from the same people who denounce racism. Those are the realities. To some, they even seem irrelevant to the idea itself.

As I get older, I notice how many people quote MLK on Monday who would adamantly work against him were he still alive today. While many such examples would suffice, the following Tweet from Senator Ted Cruz caught my attention:

From what I’ve seen from Senator Cruz, I’m doubtful he spends much time reflecting on the power of King’s words or in working toward the same goals as King. Yet this is true for many of us. We quote the ideals of peace and unity and hope while disregarding the parts that make us feel uncomfortable or the parts that would cost us personally.

It’s easy to say you’re against racism. It’s hard to actively work against the things that produce racism and are produced by it. Now that King can no longer speak to the specifics of racism he has become safe, something that was not said of him in his lifetime as he got into the weeds of the issues. King said it this way: “It is not enough for the church to be active in the realm of ideas; it must move out to the arena of social action.”

A second explanation I would offer to the dramatic shift in King’s approval ratings is that history is heading in a direction. It’s a direction that many people are adamantly opposed to, as recent events have shown. But history moves on nonetheless, and many of us will look back with a different perspective and attempt to change the role we are currently playing as it unfolds in real-time. King famously said that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

If you’re interested in diving deeper into the specifics of how Dr. King addressed the realities connected with the idea of racism, I’d highly recommend a book that I just finished recently. It’s called Stride Toward Freedom and looks at his perspective during the Montgomery Bus Boycott (see: Amazon link). It’s a great example of how he challenged racism in a practical way (and one that made him wildly unpopular with many).

Much of it could be said of this moment, such as when King says that “A sort of quasi-liberalism prevails, so bent on seeing all sides that it fails to become dedicated to any side. It is so objectively analytical that it is not subjectively committed.”

King’s daughter Bernice recently said it well: “When you tweet about my father’s birthday & on #MLKDay, remember that he was resolute about eradicating racism, poverty & militarism & believed that the church should lead in that work.”

As we move forward today with a much-needed desire for healing and unity, may we not sheepishly hide behind ideas. Instead, may we choose to give ourselves to the realities, even to the point of suffering.

It's easy to say you're against racism. It's hard to actively work against the things that produce racism and are produced by it. Share on X

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Jeremy Jernigan

Speaker | Author | Founder of Communion Wine Co.