Two weeks ago, Kevin Blue (one of our teaching pastors) gave an excellent message at church titled: “Malcolm, Martin, and Messiah.” Part of his message traced the histories and teaching of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Jesus, and asked the question: what, ultimately, was the hope or vision that these leaders pursued?
He suggested that for Malcolm, there was no belief that Whites and Blacks could ever peaceably co-exist. Kevin suggested that, for Malcolm, the ultimate aim was segregation: his hope was to see Black people free to live and develop and govern completely apart from Whites. In fact, his hopes for segregation were so strong that he actually had meetings with leaders of the Ku Klux Klan because of the commonality in their respective visions.
Next he looked at Martin, and if there was a word to summarize his hopes for Black ands Whites and for America it would be this: integration. Achieved primarily through the vehicle of legislation, King’s dream of integration reflected his belief that Blacks and Whites could co-exist; that Blacks and Whites could sit at the same table.
Lastly, Kevin commented on the message of the Messiah, Jesus. The Messiah’s vision was different from both Malcolm’s and Martin’s in that Jesus taught a radical message of reconciliation. Jesus’ teaching (and living) reflected a belief that only the transformation of the heart, and reconciliation with the Creator, could in fact open the door to authentic relationship and love across whatever holds the power to divide.
This week, Kevin preached again, and at the beginning of his message he asked us to turn to our neighbors and talk about where we see those three visions (segregation, integration, and reconciliation) playing out in the world around us. As we go about living our lives, whose vision and ideals (Malcolm’s, Martin’s or the Messiah’s) do we see followed and where? After we shared in our groups, he asked for a few people to volunteer some of the things discussed.
Someone mentioned housing: one of our church members who is Asian told the congregation how a black family moved into a predominately white housing development in the city where his parents live, and within weeks, the homes on either side of this new family were up for sale. A clear example of the value for segregation.
Another person volunteered how in their high school, many races were represented and students studied together and had amicable relationships in the classroom. But that was really as far as it went across racial lines. An example of integration.
Another person spoke up about the ongoing tragedy of the Harbor Gateway community here in L.A. that is suffering a series of race-related killings. Clearly the ideals of segregation taken to the extreme of annihilation.
He then asked us who we thought had won out in American politics and culture: whose voice had most impacted the government and society here in the United States? We all readily agreed that, for the most part, our nation had embraced Martin’s message and sought, primarily through legislation, to live out some form of the ideal of integration. Thus a national holiday.
Then Kevin turned to us with a different question: whose vision and ideals are most visible in the American church?
The answer to that question felt especially sober. Someone finally broke the silence and said out loud: “Malcolm’s.” For as is said often enough: “11am on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America.”
Here is a place where Jesus and the testimony of scripture are so infinitely clear about how we are to live and relate as new creations with one another. And yet we don’t. And the list is long that answers why…
Lord, have mercy on us.
Update: Kevin’s most recent book, Practical Justice, was just released through Intervarsity Press. Rumor has it that it sold out at Urbana, and I would strongly recommend it to anyone wrestling with what it means to walk justly in this world.