January 16, 2005

Tomorrow is the day in which our nation honors the slain civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I recall that when I was in high school I decided to assist on the congressional campaign of an African American woman in Florida. I was the only non-African American on the campaign staff. This experience allowed me to enter in and reflect upon my own prejudices and biases. We all have them, and thus it is my view that racism becomes a sickness for those who knowing their prejudices and biases, refuse to acknowledge them and address them. I came with my own preconceived notions. Racism is learned behavior. It is a reaction based on ignorance. I never before had any interactions with African American persons. All I knew is what I was taught. Often I had seen on the news a person arrested for a crime who was identified as a black person. But how often is it when a white person is arrested for a crime that they are identified as a white person? Working on the campaign staff, I first had to overcome my feelings of being the only white person there. But as I began to think- this same inner turmoil I initially experienced was the same that African Americans have experienced and internalized for decades as a minority in the dominant white culture. I came to find in this experience, that the African American people were indeed different. I think it is wrong for us to say, "I believe everyone is the same" or to use such phrases as 'well, I have a black friend'. Because in honesty, we are not the same, but we can rejoice in our diversity. And what does it mean that we have a black friend? Do we really spend quality time with the person and invite them to our homes, or is it more we just happen to know a black person? I had the opportunity while working on this campaign to meet Martin Luther King III and had the privilege to transport him from the airport to a speech at Bethune Cookman College. I came to realize that just as his father had spoken of, it is necessary to not judge people by the color of skin, but rather the content of their character. We will find people of many various groups and cultures who posssess a wonderful and charitable character, full of compassion and virtue, and sadly we will find those who do not. But we should also add that in addition to not looking at color of skin, we should not look at religion, or gender, or sexual orientation, or age, or disability, or all the other little differences we each possess, but rather the character of the person. This will decide whether our relationships will be worthwhile. But even those lacking character, we should not judge, but rather seek to understand their experiences, seek to understand why it is that they have learned what they have learned. We should seek to dispel ignorance every chance we have. It is with dispelling ignorance, that we will come upon the truth, and when we have the truth, we will truly be free. As the Lord Jesus Christ said, "the truth shall set you free."

In ancient times, the Jews and Samaritans did not interact, and it was uncommon for male and female to have dialogue. Yet our Lord Himself in dialogue with the Samaritan woman did interact with the Samaritan woman. "There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink.Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans. Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. He offered to this woman the living water, the abudant springs of Life. The Lord interacted with many of the marginalized of his time, with tax-collectors, and many who were considered sinners by those who were self-righteous and felt highly of themselves. The Lord had compassion on them all, and from them, he even was bold enough to call his apostles from their number. The Scriptures themselves have been used by many to suit their own purposes rather than to fulfill righteousness. The Scriptures are to inspire us in compassion and virtue, not to use to degrade others or puff ourselves up. We must remember that the Bible was used to justify slavery. The leader of the Confedrate States Jefferson Davis had said, ""[Slavery] was established by decree of Almighty God...it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation..." But of course this is arguable, and most would agree today that a human being having another human being as property is oppressive and offensive. And with many cult groups, Scripture has been used to enslave the minds of the vulnerable. Yet, it is not the Scriptures themselves that cause these dilemmas. It is rather the interpretation. Interpretations can change as we gradually rid ourselves of ignorance and put God's goodness and His plan ahead of our own self-righteous desires. We must begin to learn that we must accept and embrace the marginalized, for this was the example our Lord gave to us Himself. Even today, as Scripture was used to justify slavery, it is used to oppress the marginalized- the poor, gay and lesbians, Jewish persons, and still in some instances minorities. The Church is not for only a certain group of people, the Lord gave Himself for all. The door of the Church should be open to receive all who are seeking the healing touch of God, who desire to live a life of service to others, who are seeking to know God and know themselves more fully. The door of the Church should be open to the African American, the Asian, male, female, gay or straight, the disabled, the young and the elderly. This admittedly was my frustration within my participation in the Orthodox Church. That is, the ethnic divisions created. But I know the problem does not exist just there. How often would I see an African American in my church? How often would I see an Asian? Very rarely. We focused too much on our own traditions as if they themselves were the divine Law. But they are not. We can cherish our traditions, we can take pride in each of our unique identities, but we cannot allow out traditions to supersede charity. We cannot allow our traditions to create divisions and oppression to others. We must above all have love and charity. We can have many things, but this is the greatest. As Saint Paul says to the Corinthians: "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. Martin Luther King Jr's words were quite powerful and embraced this charity and love. He did not seek to make change by fighting, violence or aggression. Rather, he took a peaceful, nonviolent stand. He did as our Lord stated and turned the other cheek. He taught peacefully about the need for racial and social justice. We must continue to carry on this work. We have much to do. There are many injustices.

I conclude with the famous words of Rev. King himself: I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal." I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four children will 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. I have a dream today....When we let freedom 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!" 1