Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Let Justice Roll Down

By Roy Ciampa, PhD
Associate Professor of New Testament

In case you haven't heard, the United States of America just inaugurated its first African-American president. In fact, Barack Hussein Obama II is our first minority president of any type (back in 1960 JFK was considered a diversity candidate since he was not a Protestant Christian). This is indeed a remarkable development in American history and culture, and the fact that it has come about says we have come a long way as a country.

I am actually writing this on the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. and, although I know everyone else is doing the same, I am happy to join in with others who take this moment to reflect on the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. and where we have come in the past forty years as a nation and on the work that remains to be done. In his famous “I have a dream” speech (based on both the Declaration of Independence and Isaiah 40), King spoke, among other things, of his dream that his four little children would “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.” He spoke of a faith that we would “be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”

He ended the speech in a crescendo: “And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'”

It was almost three years later, on March 15, 1965, that Lyndon B. Johnson gave a speech to the full Congress about the need to provide African-Americans with the right to vote. Borrowing a line from those struggling for civil rights, Johnson argued, “Their cause must be our cause too. Because it's not just Negroes, but really it's all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.”

Three years after that, on April 3, 1968, the day before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King, Jr., gave the speech in which he said “I've Been to the Mountaintop.” In that speech he argued that “when people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory.” In that same speech he drew attention to the important role that preachers were playing in the cause of justice:
And you know what's beautiful to me, is to see all of these ministers of the Gospel. It's a marvelous picture. Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher? Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, and say [citing Amos 5:24], "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream." Somehow, the preacher must say with Jesus [paraphrasing Luke 4:18], "The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because hhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gife http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifhath anointed me to deal with the problems of the poor."

In a History Channel presentation on Martin Luther King, Jr. that I highly recommend, Bono asserts “inequality and injustice are more pervasive than they have ever been.” As if on cue, I received a reminder of some of the horrible injustice in this world in a Facebook invitation I just received to a “Human Trafficking Seminar” being put on by our near neighbor, Zion Bible College, on Saturday, January 24, 2009. The description points out that “Hundreds of millions of souls are victims to slave and sex trade called ‘human trafficking'. The FBI has estimated over 40,000 victims of human trafficking pass through JFK airport each year. This Seminar is designed to equip the local church to identify and intervene with the global problem of human trafficking in their local community.” (For some information on one of my local heroes, see this piece on Rev. Gloria White-Hammond and her fight against modern slavery.)

In fact, the poverty, hunger and injustice found in this country and arounhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifd the world stand as provocative taunts, impugning our commitment to justice and implying that our hunger and thirst for justice are barely felt and easily satisfied. They stand as an affront to every human being, and especially to every person who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ, who called us to demonstrate our love for him in the way we treat the weak and powerless among us.

On the occasion of the inauguration of a new president it is good to remember that despite the great power in the hands of our nation's president, even greater power is unleashed when followers of Jesus Christ, led by courageous preachers prepared to suffer for speaking up and fighting against injustice, join together to work and fight on behalf of the weak and the powerless, in the name and the power of the crucified and risen Lord.

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