“Time to Change Long Overdue”

White nationalists carry torches on the grounds of the University of Virginia, on the eve of a planned Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Alejandro Alvarez/News2Share via REUTERS

White nationalists carry torches on the grounds of the University of Virginia, on the eve of a planned Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Alejandro Alvarez/News2Share via REUTERS

Pastor Russell Edwards

August 20th, 2017

Acts 10:9-16, 34-35     1 John 2:7-11



During an address to the Southern Methodist University in Dallas Texas, in the spring of 1966, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We have come a long, long way but we still have a long, long way to go.”[1]  The voice and words we just listened to was a recording[2] of Dr. King made that same year, and is sometimes called his “We Shall Overcome” speech, in which he employs the words of the unofficial anthem of the civil rights movement, noting the future tense of the word “shall”, we shall overcome… someday.  Confident… but still a long, long way to go.

As most of you who were here last weekend know, I changed my sermon late that Saturday night after learning of the events that had transpired earlier in the day in Charlottesville, Virginia.  I talked about the need to persist in our efforts and prayers to resist the racial bigotry which continues to flare in our country.  You’ll remember how Camille described for us, the persistent heroic life of Harriet Tubman as she guided dozens of slaves to freedom, and went on to work in the struggle for women’s suffrage.[3]

On Monday morning, fully anticipating the hate groups responsible for the death of 32-year old Heather Heyer, and injuries to 19 others who had been marching peaceably to protest the white nationalist rally in their city, (billed by its organizers as a “Unite the Right” rally), would have been condemned and censured for what they are – dangerous, hate filled racists, I anticipated launching into a sermon revolving around the truly miraculous event which will take place tomorrow afternoon, as the moon covers the sun and the skies become dark.  Who could have anticipated that as each day wore on we would hear claims that the victims of that tragedy shared the blame for their injuries?  Who could have fathomed, that many of those who marched on a college campus with burning torches, chanting: “blood and soil”; “one people, one nation, end immigration”; chanting: “Jews will not replace us” and “Russia is our friend”, were being described as “fine individuals?”

Who would believed, especially those among us who lived through and witnessed the heart wrenching scenes of the Civil Rights Era, when as a nation we recognized the sins of our culture and forged healing (albeit not nearly enough), that five decades later we could come to this?

Yet here I was, already looking up scriptures to describe God’s miracles as the heavens and earth, the light and the dark, were created; here I was, hard at work researching the miracles that will come together to cause the total solar eclipse we will experience tomorrow; here I was acting like the things of my universe had returned to ‘normal,’ instead of persisting in the crucial task at hand: speaking truth to power – white power!  Maybe I just hadn’t read my own words in that sermon from last week, when I said, “We must persistently denounce the evil of racism; we must be persistent in our demand that racism not be ignored, excused or justified.”

As I was writing this, I realized I had not seen a single statement from our own regional or national denominational leadership concerning the Charlottesville tragedy so I went to the ABC-USA website where I found a statement from the General Secretary dated August 13th.  The statement lamented two concerns – first: the escalating tensions between the United States and North Korea as we move closer to conflict and possible nuclear catastrophe.  And the second: a paragraph which encouraged pastors to remind our membership that ABCUSA stands for the full equality of all Americans and rejects every version of racial prejudice, attaching the text of a 1980 resolution denouncing the manifestations of racism as evidenced by the (then) resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan.

In April of 1963 Dr. King wrote from his Birmingham jail cell to his colleagues in the ‘white’ Church, “In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church… There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed…  But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before.  If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.” [5]

Intellectually we understand that bigotry and hatred evolve from fear – the fear of losing the privilege you have enjoyed for so long; and fear evolves from ignorance – the ignorance of the ‘other’.  But those fears and that ignorance, when harnessed, is a dangerously powerful thing.  Let’s be clear about one thing – the kind of hatred and bigotry our country witnessed, acted out in the streets of Charlottesville, and demonstrated by some of our country’s highest leaders through their failure to denounce by name, the terrorist actions of those in Charlottesville, will not dissipate like a puff of acrid smoke in a strong breeze, simply because of the words expressed in one Sunday’s sermon, or one statement posted on a website. The Southern Poverty Law Center,[6] one of the leading institutions monitoring and fighting hate groups in our country, through education and legal remedy, has identified 917 individual hate groups operating in the United States – 15 individual groups in our own state of New Jersey, including two separate Ku Klux Klan organizations, the Neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement, the Forza Nuova White Nationalists, the Aryan Strikeforce and the Racist Skinheads, (and an additional eight ‘black separatist’ and ‘Islamic terrorist’ movements operate in New Jersey).[7]  Bigotry and hatred is (literally) a deadly cancerous growth on our society which, if viewed as a ‘fringe’ movement, has unimaginable potential to destroy this extraordinary experiment called democracy, which has as its founding principle the equality of all human beings.   In Heather Heyer’s own words on her Facebook page days before her murder, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”

I was appalled, and outraged and paying attention, as I watched video this week of Ku Klux Klan members quoting, and interpreting and misapply Bible scriptures to justify their poisonous positions.  But let’s be clear about another thing; there is no equivocation – no ambiguity on the issue of inclusion and diversity in the Holy Scriptures; God’s Word is explicit.  To begin with the terminology of ‘race’ is a misnomer; the Bible is clear there is only one race; there are many nations, many ethnicities, but only one human race.  Paul tells the multitude of people who formed the crowds on Mars Hill, “God who made the world and all things therein is Lord of Heaven and earth, hath made of one blood, all nations of men (and women) to dwell on all the face of the earth.”[8]  James writes that the hatred we call ‘racism’ is a sin, “You do well when you really fulfill the royal law found in scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself.  But when you show favoritism, you are committing a sin, and by that same law you are exposed as a lawbreaker.”[9]  Phillip could see no reason not to baptize the Ethiopian eunuch.[10]  Like Peter, it may take quite a while for that message to seep through our consciousness and permeate our hearts: “God does not show partiality to one group of people over another.”  The one who claims to be in the light, but hates a brother or sister, remains in darkness; but the person loves their brothers and sisters lives in the light of God; and there is nothing in that light that can cause a person to stumble.

On April 4th, 1968, while campaigning in Indianapolis, IN, Robert F Kennedy received the news of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, and had to announce it to a large crowd of supporters, mostly African-American.  In his impromptu remarks he said, “In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it’s perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in.”[11]

And so in a week of national moral turmoil, we once again must ask ourselves as Christians, what kind of followers of Christ will we be?  And in what direction do we want to move?  Will we be complicit through our own silence, in the superficial ‘outrage,’ expressed by so many in places of authority, unwilling to risk the privilege our ethnicity, our color has afforded us?  Or do we instead believe – truly believe – that God shows no partiality, that the principles of equality for all extends across all racial, ethnic and gender lines?  Do we believe – truly believe – that love shall overcome hate?   Do we believe, as Camille suggested to us, that if we persist in expressing that kind of all-encompassing, forgiving love through the way we live, the love of Christ shall overcome the bigotry festering in every neighborhood in our land?

In this time of moral turmoil, I do we believe, we can recapture that sacrificial spirit of the early church, and we shall overcome – but we still have a long, long way to go; and the time to change how and who we love, is long overdue!

—  Amen  ―


[1] https://www.smu.edu/News/2014/mlk-at-smu-transcript-17march1966

[2]  We Shall Overcome (06/17/1966)    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZfHVd44GMTU

[3] She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World;  May 30th 2017; Philomel Books; Clinton ,Chelsea

[4] Rev. Dr. Elmo Familiaran, https://www.abcnj.net/news/2017/8/16/a-message-to-abcnj-pastors-and-leaders

[5] https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/letter-birmingham-jail;  http://okra.stanford.edu/transcription/document_images/undecided/630416-019.pdf

[6] Southern Poverty Law Center  https://www.splcenter.org/about

[7] https://www.splcenter.org/hate-map

[8] Acts 17:24, 26  (KJ21)

[9] James 2:8-9  (CEB)

[10] Acts 8:26-39

[11] Robert F. Kennedy;  https://www.jfklibrary.org/Research/Research-Aids/Ready-Reference/RFK-Speeches/Statement-on-the-Assassination-of-Martin-Luther-King.aspx

This entry was posted in Sermons. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *