(EDITOR'S NOTE: Today marks the debut column of Faith Matters by the social concerns committee of the United Churches of Lycoming County. The monthly column will include local faith-based comment on significant social issues facing us today. Letters reacting to the columns should be brief and clear and may be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed in the columns are those of the writers and the social concerns committee, not necessarily the Sun-Gazette.)
Monday is Martin Luther King Day, and issues of race that were brought into the national spotlight still are with us today. There is much that people of faith can learn from King. Take his best and most famous writing: Letter From a Birmingham Jail. The civil rights campaign protesting the unjust laws of segregation had moved into Birmingham, Ala., in April 1963. Commissioner of Public Safety Bull Connor filled all the jails of the city and county of Birmingham with demonstrators. And then, in front of a shocked national TV audience, Connor turned the police dogs loose, followed by fire hoses, onto black children, with the water pressure at 100 pounds per square inch, ripping the bark off of trees and pounding onto the backs of black boys and girls.
King himself was jailed, and wrote his lengthy response to eight white Alabama clergymen who thought non-violent resistance to be untimely and "extreme measures." King retorts in his letter that the answer "wait" always means never and that justice delayed is justice denied. He then defends his methods: "We who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out into the open where it can be seen and dealt with." Only after a crisis point emerges and the tensions burst like a lanced boil, only then can the negotiations and change begin.
Today in our counties and communities, the simmering tensions of racism are alive and, sadly, well. King explains that common responses to racism are complacency ("do-nothingism") at one extreme and violence fueled by bitterness and hatred at the other. King's middle way is of love and direct action. And the impetus for change he puts on the white churches; yet he watched them prefer law and order over justice, and the status quo over equality. King proclaims, "We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people."
For a white person like me, this isn't about inciting guilt, but inspiring action. The gospel is about bringing down racial and other barriers as well as personal salvation. It is about people of faith speaking out against the injustice in our midst: the cruel jokes, the racial innuendo and the blatant discrimination. It is about showing that we should be judged by the conduct of our character and not the color of our skin.
This is the first in what will be a monthly column titled Faith Matters. This is our Statement of Purpose: The Social Concerns Committee of the United Churches of Lycoming County believes that in order to be responsible persons of faith, we also must be good citizens in our community. We need to know the significant social issues facing us today, how they affect people in this region and what we can do about them. We understand the need to speak with conviction and also respect the right of others to disagree and inform us. It is necessary to know different sides of crucial social concerns. We seek mutual understanding as a means to a deeper truth.
Once a month a local person will share a perspective on a faith-inspired social issue. We welcome the opportunity to give birth to a place of continuing dialogue on concerns that matter for persons of faith and for all those who share interest in our community.
- Manzinger is the pastor at First Baptist Church, 380 W. Fourth St., and a member of United Churches Social Concerns Committee.