Dear Sisters and Brothers,

In response to my comments about attending the events on Martin Luther King

Day, someone wrote me: “I wasn’t planning to respond on this, but . . .

racism is not the unforgivable sin . . King didn’t even sound like he could

affirm the Apostles Creed . . . Adultery/fornication automatically

disqualifies you for the ministry, whether you are Jimmy Swaggart, MLK,

Jesse J, Jimmy Bakker or whoever. MLK might have been a Christian, but he

had no right to be called a minister, period. He disqualified hisself.

Nobody else did, much less any racist white folks . . . Nor is this to deny

that God can judge this nation . . . by visiting a

fraud/hypocrite/opportunist of sorts like MLK upon it . . . and MLK was not

a communist/socialist, right? Still everybody today knows that the only

racist act in town is the white folks. That’s the real lesson of all the MLK

Day festivities out there on the street if you can read between the lines of

the media propaganda, much less ignore it and look for yourself.”

Dear ___,

Your thinking probably represents that of a lot of White Americans. Racism

is still quite pervasive. And yes, I agree that it is very much present in

the Black community, just as it is in the White. And you are also correct:

when the press touches on racism today, it generally focuses on that of

Whites. Of course, that’s quite a change from the time when Walter Cronkite

mocked Dr. King on national television.

I am a Protestant minister who holds to the inerrancy and infallibility of

the Bible, confessing that it is the only rule for faith and life. I try to

preach expository sermons that are true to the text and hit people where

they live, even though I often fall very short of that ideal. Twenty years

ago our congregation established a Christian school that now has close to

five hundred students. We strive for academic excellence, scholarships for

children from poorer homes, and we do our best to teach our students a

biblical world and life view, particularly in our high school, so I tend to

attract a pretty conservative audience to the congregation I serve.

Younger people who haven’t done a lot of research aren’t bothered by my

joining with leaders in the African-American community trying to work for

the welfare of our community, even though I am often the only White

involved, as, for example, about six months ago, when about thirty of us met

with our mayor, and he promised to appoint a particular African-American man

as the next chief of police — he’s to make the announcement the end of this

week; I pray that he doesn’t break his promise. Older folks, particularly

those who have read very extensively, aren’t particularly bothered by my

trying to be a bridge between our two, divided communities, but many of them

have been disturbed by my very visible presence at Martin Luther King Day

events, especially back when I was the key-note speaker, and my remarks

ended up on television and in the newspaper.

I’ve had people try to get rid of me. Once I was very involved on the

opposite side of the fence from the Director of the Louisiana Baptist

Convention. The gentleman quietly went to work on one of my elders, the

president of a bank, trying to undermine his relationship with me. I guess

this was his method in dealing with Baptist preachers that didn’t

wholeheartedly support the Cooperative Program, and he thought it would work

with the Presbyterians. But that elder knew that I was committed to the

Bible and telling the truth, and he knew I loved him, so he quietly

dismissed that inveigling denominational bureaucrat and reported the

incident to me. The state head of the Baptists is now dead, and I’m still

very much alive. When I was called to preach, the Lord impressed me with

Jeremiah 1:19, ‘”They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for

I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.’

I’m sure quite a few of my folks have been embarrassed by me here and there

over the years — one of my elders was once humiliated and quite angry when

he brought a wealthy couple to church — they owned a good-sized

manufacturing company. But instead of impressing them, I broke down and

wept in the pulpit. (It was the only time that I remember doing that from

the pulpit, but I was preaching on hell and simply lost control.)

I try to do my pastoral work diligently, so these same folk know that I love

them. I get up and go in the middle of the night when they call. I visit

them when they’re sick, in trouble or have a tragedy. I don’t say “no” to

their requests unless the request would require me to sin. I’ve cut short a

vacation to come back to do a funeral. I took seriously what I was told

years ago: a congregation will put up with a whole lot if they know their

pastor loves them.

Bottom line . . . probably not a few of them view me like a kind, old,

generous uncle that’s a little bit crazy once in a while, but most of the

time he’s the person they call when they’re in a fix. I buy the right to be

brazenly bold by letting folks walk all over me on all the things that don’t

really matter.

Probably my closest male friend was the Central Louisiana leader of the John

Birch Society a few years back, and he has passed on a lot of things about

Martin Luther King to me. Every year he gives me a subscription to _The New

American_, and I enjoy reading some of its insightful articles. So what is

my response to him?

For most African-Americans, the national Martin Luther King Day holiday is

symbolic of the real beginning of overcoming several hundred years of

oppression within America. It isn’t so much about a man, but about an ideal

of freedom. In Central Louisiana, it takes on a thoroughly Evangelical

tone. Legal oppression in America denied Blacks the right not only to read

and write, but sometimes even forbad them legally to marry each other.

Now, I will say this to anybody: that’s as wicked as hell. It’s damnable,

and it has left America with the legacy of pandemic bastardy. As I see the

influence of the worst elements of this youth-driven sub-culture conquering

the dying remnants of the Christian elements of an older American culture,

especially with regard to the sanctity of marriage, I am reminded that the

Lord our God is a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the

children to the third and fourth generation. (Exodus 20:5.) Does 2 Samuel

21:1-14 have anything to say to us in America today, other than, “Thank God,

I’m under the New Covenant!”? As I come to the chilling implications of 2

Samuel 21:14 (“After that, God answered prayer in behalf of the land.”), I

understand that I am affected by what my ancestors and my federal

representatives did long before my time. It makes me wonder if systemic

racism isn’t a curse on American society just like abortion and public

sodomy.

For me, marching in our city’s annual Martin Luther King Day parade is like

saluting the American flag, the flag of a nation that has repeatedly refused

to acknowledge the Lord Jesus Christ in its Constitution, a nation whose

national leaders have included a lot of notorious, godless men — adulterers

and murderers, like the victorious Union cavalry that committed genocide

against the Native Americans of the Western Plains. But I still love

America and haven’t quit praying the words of the early twentieth century

hymn:

“O beautiful for pilgrim feet

Whose stern, impassioned stress

A thoroughfare for freedom beat

Across the wilderness!

America! America!

God mend thine every flaw,

Confirm thy soul in self-control,

Thy liberty in law!”

Was Dr. King guilty of so much of what his critics say and even some of his

friends acknowledge? Probably so. For me to attend his funeral back in

1968 was a statement to those around me, just as my marching is today. As a

White, Southern male, I acknowledge that I have been greatly influenced by

what my ancestors bequeathed to me. I stand in solidarity with them, owning

up to their failures and mine. In no small way, I see my actions not unlike

the prayer of Daniel:

“O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all

who love him and obey his commands, we have sinned and done wrong. We have

been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and

laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your

name to our kings, our princes and our fathers, and to all the people of the

land . . . O LORD, we and our kings, our princes and our fathers are covered

with shame because we have sinned against you.” (Daniel 9:4-8.)

I stand in solidarity with a nation — perhaps the best nation that has ever

been, but one nonetheless deeply flawed from its inception — I acknowledge

my corporate, federal connection with this nation, not only now, but with

its history, a wonderful and inspiring history of freedom under law, but

also a history written with the blood of those whom it has oppressed and

enslaved and from whom it has stolen.

Dr. King’s written statements represent a variety of theological positions.

Sadly, it’s easy to find things that he wrote that are contrary to biblical

Christianity. Like most students, he tried to impress his teachers and win

good grades. He wrote to win over some of the theologically liberal

professors he had at Crozer Theological Seminary and Boston University. I

remember back in the sixties getting a perfect score on my zoology final

because I so perfectly traced my professor’s particular theory of evolution

with so many intricate details put down to prove it. Did I believe what I

wrote over those three hours? No, but I lacked the intellectual firepower

to take on my professor and still get a good grade, so I hid a little

statement within, just as a conscience salve. Most folk don’t do that; they

just vomit back what the professor has laid out. In saying that, I’m not

saying that Dr. King was a thorough-going, consistent, conservative

Protestant Evangelical, but he did confess Jesus Christ, notwithstanding

everything else.

Was he guilty of adultery? I wasn’t there; I don’t know. But his close

friend, Ralph David Abernathy, said that he was. I’ve known more than one

White conservative minister who committed adultery, and they’re still in the

pulpit. (I don’t know why, but folks seem to seek me out and tell me what’s

going on in their lives, even at a General Assembly or presbytery meeting.

I guess they know that I’ll really listen to them, keep it to myself, tell

them the unvarnished truth and pray for them.)

Were some of the Whites who reached out to Dr. King communists? Did they

reach out to him not because they cared about the plight of Blacks, but

because they sought to destabilize America during the Cold War? Probably

so. Where were all those Whites who “believed the Bible” back then? They

mocked Blacks and refused to allow them to attend White houses of worship —

at least that was my experience in South Carolina, when my Daddy voted with

the rest of the elders to refuse admittance to Blacks.

There have been three mainstream, Black approaches to overcoming the

egregious, violent oppression of the American system: that of Booker T.

Washington, that of Martin Luther King and that of Malcolm X. (Malcolm

Little.)

Dr. Washington and Dr. George Washington Carver sought to help Black folks

without confronting the sins of the American system.

Malcolm X sought to help Black folks by confronting the sins of the American

system _By Any Means Necessary_, including a willingness to use physical

violence.

Dr. King sought to help Black folks by confronting the sins of the American

system honestly but without violence. He sought self-consciously to instill

the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ when he would speak to prepare people

for the outpouring of rage they were soon to experience as they publicly

confronted evil.

As I think about those three methods, I land squarely with Dr. King. He

cited Gandhi, to be sure, but he walked in the methods of the New Testament

in confronting evil — not unlike the way the Apostle Paul did. Saint Paul

forced the Philippian government officials to come to the jail and public

acknowledge what they had done; he didn’t take up arms against them, but he

did confront them: ‘But Paul said to the officers: “They beat us publicly

without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into

prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come

themselves and escort us out.”‘ (Acts 16:37.)

Dr. King’s good impact on the American system reminds me of the elegant,

open letter of the late A. Leon Higginbotham Jr., Chief Judge of the United

States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. (It is well worth reading.

)

Judge Higginbotham wrote to the young African-American judge, Clarence

Thomas, who was about to take Thurgood Marshall’s seat on the United States

Supreme Court, reminding him that he stood today on the shoulders of those

who had sacrificed so much. His words remind me of Dr. King’s dream at the

Lincoln Memorial back on August 28, 1963:

‘I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and

frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply

rooted in the American dream.

‘I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true

meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men

are created equal.”

‘I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former

slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together

at a table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state,

sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed

into an oasis of freedom and justice.

‘I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where

they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of

their character.

‘I have a dream today.’

So, I’ll continue to salute the flag and to march in memory of Dr. King. I

hope you’ll consider doing so yourself next year.

Cordially in Christ,

Bob

Robert Benn Vincent, Sr.

Grace Presbyterian Church

4900 Jackson Street

Alexandria, Louisiana 71303-2509

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