The most segregated hour

To truly honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., heal the division in our churches.

By Hannah McMahan

Yesterday we celebrated the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist minister who was more than a preacher. King was a voice — a prophetic voice — calling our nation to compassion, justice and its true self. He envisioned a day in which our eyes would be opened to see the holy belovedness in each other.

Yesterday we honored this great man with remembrances, marches and service. To truly honor him, however, our celebration cannot be confined to one day. We must turn our celebration into ongoing commitment and our admiration into steadfast action. It is the day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day that we show what Dr. King really means to us.

Dr. King called forth a day in which our mouths would open to speak blessings rather than curses, love rather than hate and healing rather than hurt. He worked for a day in which liberty and opportunity would be the inheritance of every man, woman and child. His prophetic voice still echoes today, reminding us of his dream and God’s.

“I have a dream that my four little 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 that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; ‘and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.’”

Yet for all their beauty, passion and wisdom, these words of hope are shadowed by a much sadder reality pronounced by Dr. King.

“You must face the tragic fact that when you stand at eleven o’clock on Sunday morning to sing, ‘In Christ There Is No East or West,’ you stand in the most segregated hour of Christian America.”

Much has changed because Dr. King and many others toiled and spoke and marched. The law now requires that schools be integrated, buses and restaurant seats be available to everyone, and the doors of opportunity be open to all. These changes were hard fought and we must remain steadfast to safeguard their observance. Yet there is still much to be done in our churches.

Painfully, we must admit that 50 years later, some things have not changed. The church in 2014 remains divided. Divided by race. Divided by theology. Divided by generation. Divided by economics. Divided by geography. Divided. Because we have failed to see the divine presence in our brothers and sisters in Christ, our witness to a world so in need of God’s love has been silenced, our Christian unity fractured and our building of the beloved community, of which Dr. King dreamed, deferred.

In 2014, we have a choice. In fact, we have the same choice that Dr. King and so many other civil rights activists had. We can live in this status quo of division or we can take action to reconcile with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We can care for long festering wounds and love each other through the pain. We can heal the brokenness in our churches.

In my work with the New Baptist Covenant, I have been privileged to work alongside so many Baptists of goodwill who are dedicated to healing the divisions in our Baptist family and to the long journey true reconciliation requires. Together they are joining hands to tear down old walls and to lay new foundations. United in faith, hope and love, a broad array of Baptists are covenanting to work with one another to make a difference in their communities. These brothers and sisters in Christ inspire me and make me proud to be a Baptist. They prove that the beloved community is within our grasp if we will only work for it.

As we move forward in this shared labor of love, I remember the admonition of Dr. King:“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can‘t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” We have crawled separately for long enough. Now is the time for us to stand and walk together in the hope that one day we will fly. If we truly wish to honor Dr. King, then let us heed his prophetic voice and work to heal the divisions in our churches. Together, let us dare to be the dream that lived in Dr. King and that was first born in the heart of God.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.