In the week following Easter, I traveled to Washington D.C. to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who was murdered for trying to be a good Christian. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a figure maligned in his own time by America’s dominant white culture, now revered as a hero and prophet, once said that he only wanted to be remembered as one who tried to be, “a good Christian.”
I represented our church as part of a group from the Rhode Island State Council of Churches. We joined the National Council of Churches' “A.C.T. - Awaken, Confront, Transform - to End Racism Rally” that drew clergy, lay people and peace advocates from diverse races, creeds and faith traditions from across the country to honor the anniversary on what theologian Rev. Dr W. Franklyn Richardson called, “the front porch of our nation.” We rode the bus all night and were dropped off very early at the national MLK monument before sunrise on April 4th. While it was still dark, I wondered if I would see any signs of resurrection on this pilgrimage.
Tired, a few of us went to seek out a cup of coffee before the days scheduled events began. In the early hours of the day I found myself thinking of Dr. King’s statement, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” This quote came to mind because, while it was still dark, I saw symptoms of the spiritual death he warned against wherever I looked. I have never seen more homeless people left out in the cold, camped out in tents, than on “the front porch of our nation.” I have never seen more young people begging in the streets with looks of anguish on their faces than on “the front porch of our nation,” one of the wealthiest nations in the world. Rev. Dr. King defined our countries’ triple social sins that lead to our spiritual death as being, “militarism, poverty, and racism.” It would seem that since the assassination of the good Christian, our country has continued turning its back on the Christ who is one with, the least among us, the poor, the vulnerable, and the oppressed. In a country that killed the good Christian, it would seem we have indeed continued to structure our whole society and our institutions on the three sins he warned against. While it was still dark, I couldn’t help but think of these triple sins while witnessing the systemic violence of poverty spilling out on the front porch of our nation. I wonder if we as a nation have arrived in the graveyard of spiritual death that the good Christian warned us against. It would seem we have arrived at the tomb in a time when so many consider the triple sins of militarism, poverty, and racism as things that make us, “great again.” These were my thoughts and prayers while it was still dark.
The darkness lifted and the rising sun illuminated faces of diverse communities of faith gathered at the monument to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The sunrise revealed a beloved community of all different churches, nationalities, ethnicities, and faith traditions, coming together to pray, hope, and envision a way forward. The morning light also illuminated a statue of Rev. King and flashed on the prophetic statements of the good Christian engraved in rock.
“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant,” said the rocks.
My heart settled on the quote, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." This rang true to me! When we as individuals, even more so as the church sent out to be the body of Christ in the world, when WE become silent about things that matter, we begin to die. Churches are dying today because too many Christians and too many of our churches have become silent about the things that matter, but the stones in Washington D.C. cry out good news. The good news is that if our spiritual life as individuals and as the Church begins to end when we are silent about things that matter, conversely, resurrection happens when we speak out, refuse to be silent, seek out, and sing out the truth together! Our souls come alive, the Holy Spirit rains down, and we live into our purpose and our destiny as the Church when we refuse to be silent about all the things that matter.
“I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits,” cried out the stones. (Allusion to Luke 19:40)
On the morning of April 4th, the beloved community marched in silence to the mall where they gathered in prayer all day long and, and all day long, broke the silence and sang out about the things that matter. Prayers rose to heaven repenting our society’s silent complicity with institutionalized poverty, ecological devastation, and war. Songs were sang about the one who comes bringing sight to the blind and liberation for the oppressed to empower and inspire us to welcome the realm of God by working to uphold the common good.
The commemoration rally claimed three specific goals. The community gathered in prayer to call on all of us as people of faith to,
- “AWAKEN ourselves to the truth that racism is ever-present, deeply rooted in American culture, and profoundly damaging to our communities,
- to CONFRONT racism, speak truth to ourselves, our communities and institutions, and stand against injustice, and
- to TRANSFORM the hearts, minds, and behaviors of people and structures that shape society.”
If the Church in our culture has been dying as a result of our silence about the things that matter, then our resurrection and our life as the body of Christ in the world will begin when we shatter the silence and sing out Christ’s truth prophetically in our words and actions. Even though it might still be dark out, we can let our light shine! We can be that body, that beloved community that refuses to be silent about the things that matter. When we do we will begin to see glimpses of Martin Luther King Jr. walking with us. We will be able to see the good Christian raised from the dead! When we as the Church raise our voices to our communities, our nation, and our world about the things that matter and when we A.C.T., we will be able to cry out to the world with new integrity and conviction, “Christ is risen,” and hear called back to us a thundering, “Alleluia.”
Christ is risen,
The Rev. Brendan Curran is Associate Minister at the Barrington Congregational Church UCC in Barrington, RI.