And the winner is…?

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.


  1. Erika, Thanks for sharing this. Very interesting.

    The Christian African Americans I’ve known, for the most part, have experienced hurt from their brothers and sisters in Christ. This seems to me, in itself, a clear indication of our need, as church, to experience this reconciliation that Jesus was all about.

    And I’m reminded of Bishop Desmond Tutu, who I think better achieved a reconciliation like Jesus’ teaching, than did MLK. But my hat still goes off to Martin Luther King, Jr. Whose vision is very gospel oriented, in a real sense (I just read Philip Yancey’s chapter on Martin Luther King, Jr., in his book, Soul Survivor, at a bookstore this weekend.)

  2. Thanks for your comment, Ted. I cannot account for the life, the witness, and the sacrifice of Martin Luther King, Jr. as anything other than a spirit-filled pursuit of Jesus. I have no doubt that he was a person deeply shaped by the Truth, and that his “Strength to Love” in the face of beatings, killings, prisons, and threats to himself and his family could only have been endured by a person of deep and abiding faith. He most certainly teaches us much about the gospel!

  3. Erika, Yes. Yancey’s book, Soul Survivor, and the first chapter on Martin Luther King, Jr, is very helpful in getting a good overall view of the man. That, in spite of flaws, ends up saying what you’re saying here. Very good chapter. I need to get that book.

  4. I’m not sure I agree with distinction Kevin drew between Dr. King’s vision and Jesus’ teaching though I appreciate what I think he was trying to do in the sermon.

    I don’t think King believed that the goal was simply politically mandated integration, though in my mind that kind of integration has achieved far more than the traditional American church of all stripes has in bringing people together across racial and ethnic barriers.

    I know a lot of people are disappointed in the results of integration, but I’m not as disappointed as many seem to be. Maybe it’s a generational thing, but I think we’ve made significant progress in a matter of a few decades. He’s the most visible reason for that change. Good that we celebrate his birthday.

    I think his writings and speeches demonstrate that he clearly understood the biblical goal of racial reconciliation.

    But he was a practical visionary.

    He was faced with a question.

    Do you believe the largely secular promises of equality and human rights in the US constitution are more likely to produce practical progress than the wonderful promises of the gospel that have been largely ignored for 2000 years?

    I think he made the choice that any practical man who loved his people and country would have made.

    As for Tutu, another great man. He’s gotten less cred than he deserves for the miracle of post-apartheid South Africa.

    But he was playing the game with a much stronger hand than King.

    It’s easier to appeal to Christian ideals of reconciliation when the whites in your country are terrified of a bloodbath at the hands of 90% of the population.

    That Tutu was able to keep that bloodbath from happening is his great achievement.

  5. “He was faced with a question.

    Do you believe the largely secular promises of equality and human rights in the US constitution are more likely to produce practical progress than the wonderful promises of the gospel that have been largely ignored for 2000 years?

    I think he made the choice that any practical man who loved his people and country would have made.”

    I am glad you bring this up–a valid and significant point, for sure.

    Do you think there is any room for Tutu’s strategy here in the States, say in urban centers like L.A. where communities remain violently torn, often along racial lines? What would you think of a “truth and reconciliation” strategy in our cities?

  6. This idea that churches are volunteralily segregated has often dumbfounded me. I grew up with searching parents and each Sunday we went to radically different churches, for years. As a 5,6,7 year old, it seems kind of confusing but very interesting. I grew up knowing that there were different churches out there but not knowing the deep seated dislikes between them. I never stayed long enough in a church usually to remember the pastors name let alone their secret pet-peeves.
    I still live a lot like this today, I enjoy so much going to different services.
    We could learn so much from one another and logically the strength in numbers!
    I feel like life is so confortable for most americans there is no need for other churches support for us. The early church was persecuted so much that they lived or died by the support of those around them.
    It’s like the pharisees getting stuck on the law because they know they are the chosen ones already and have it good they don’t need grace and show no mercy.
    I don’t know much about churches or church history but I sure can see the parellels between thinking you have it all and really having nothing and having nothing and having the most. in Jesus’s preaching faith in God and love for others comes first, not doctrine.
    I’m guilty of this thinking sometimes as well, I pray for a humbling of my pride in thinking my way is best and to be shown wisdom and understanding for all people.

  7. The truth and reconciliation strategy would be great in LA. It would be great anywhere. Hard to think of a more Christian approach to a history of injustice.

    Just don’t think there’s much motivation to do it here in the States.

    It worked in South Africa because the folks who formerly held power were all fairly committed Christians, even if their doctrine was sick and racially twisted. Once they lost power they were open to biblical appeals.

    Those same people also understood that they would be killed in big numbers if they didn’t respond. When the oppressed make up 90% of the country and they have intelligent and powerful leadership, the 10% have got to wake up and smell the coffee. The prospect of hanging tends to concentrate the mind wonderfully.

    The ANC was led by a miraculous secular leader in Mandela. God works in mysterious ways. Mostly in mysterious ways, I think.

    He understood–because of his studies of Dr. King and Ghandi (another pagan :^) that reconciliation is not only a sound spiritual approach but a smart political and economic strategy as well. He promoted that take and was willing to give Tutu and other Christian leaders who had proven themselves friends of justice an opportunity to guide the whole process.

    I just don’t see many parallels between the South African situation and our own.

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