By Bishop Woodie W. White, originally posted at Interpreter Magazine
Editor’s Note: Each year, retired United Methodist Bishop Woodie W. White writes a “birthday letter” to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in which he offers his perspective on the state of race relations, particularly in the United States. White, now
I wish this birthday letter might be more positive than the one I wrote last year. It is not! Our nation’s racial climate has gotten worse rather than better! A political rhetoric of divisive and hate-filled speech pollutes the atmosphere. To our struggle against racism and its negative impact on American life and legacy is added growing xenophobia, nativism
Lady Liberty in the harbor must find it difficult not to weep as she lifts her lamp beside the golden door and invites, “Give me
Only last month, on Dec. 6, we marked the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the 13th amendment to the United States Constitution. This amendment, which declares slavery illegal in the nation, is a reminder both of the high cost of racism – and of the nation’s efforts to correct its wrongs. America is still engaged in this effort, but there are those who remain committed to a racially and ethnically divided nation. They will fail!
I was hopeful that the emergence of the Idea “Black Lives Matter” might elevate both the conversation and the consciousness in our quest to address ongoing issues of race in America. The recent rash of deaths of unarmed, young black men in encounters with police provides the opportunity for renewed and serious engagement of our unfinished work as a nation. However, this is not the only indication that the nation needs to be reminded that “Black Lives Matter.”
Martin, your heart would break, as does mine, at the violent deaths of young black men in
Perhaps, to many in our nation, black and white, black lives really don’t matter! Perhaps, what is
This leads me to my great disappointment — the near silence of the churches in the recent racial discourse. I wait for some outcry of moral indignation at the racial climate in this country, some ethical compass for political and civic leaders, some call for racial unity, some serious challenge to the voices of hate!
Martin, I continue to read and appreciate your “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, penned from your cell, on April 16, 1963. I believe it was your finest composition! You challenged church leaders of that day to confront the racial context in which they found themselves with more boldness and consistency. I commend its reading to today’s leaders, who may have never read it. They will find it instructive as they confront injustice, prejudice
While I write today with disappointment, it is not without hope.
Our friend and courageous leader the Rev. William Sloan Coffin wrote in 1994: “Hope is a state of mind independent of the state of the world. So, if your heart’s full of hope, you can be persistent when you can’t be optimistic. You can keep the faith despite the evidence, knowing that only in so doing has the evidence any chance of changing. So while I am not optimistic, I am always hopeful.”
So, Martin, I close, if not with optimism, with hope!
P.S.: Martin, after I ended these words to you, I completed reading a new book Born of Conviction. It was written by a native Mississippian Joseph T. Reiff. He details brilliantly the experience of 28 courageous white Methodist ministers, who, in 1963, sought to speak to the racial context of their day. They issued a statement titled “Born of Conviction.”