Martin Luther King, Jr. said 1963 was not the end. Apparently 2007 isn’t either. Forty-four years after Dr. King delivered perhaps the most well-known and beloved speech of the twentieth century, we still have a lot of heavy lifting to do.
Four years before the shot rang out at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Amendment. Dr. King’s dream had come true…at least on paper.
On April 4, 1968, the night before Dr. King lay motionless in a pool of his own blood, he uttered the prophetic words, “I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the Promised Land. And so I'm happy tonight; I'm not worried about anything; I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” I do not know if he was speaking metaphorically, but the next day the metaphor was now a reality.
After 13 years of peaceful protests, eloquent speeches, and dreams of equality, Dr. King stepped into the light and saw the reality of the heavenly picture he had longed for on earth. That picture is found in Revelation 7:9-10; I can only imagine the joy in his face as he gazed upon the very thing he had only read about until that moment.
The apostle John wrote, “I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.” The dream had become a reality – a reality so wonderful and so glorious God undoubtedly had to wipe a few tears from Dr. King’s eyes.
Segregation is not in God’s economy. We will not find any “Whites Only” signs in heaven and no “Colored Entrance” either. There is no black power in the Kingdom, only God’s power. There is no white supremacy because Jesus reigns supreme. This truth is difficult to grasp because it has been hidden by centuries of bigotry and injustice. We see, but only as one seeing a poor reflection. The negative experiences of mortal life have a way of obscuring the divine. The young girl who has been raped sees her value in mens' willful satisfaction rather than the truth that God delights in her. The young man who has been emotionally abused sees himself as worthless rather than seeing the infinite worth the Father places on Him.
In the same way, centuries of slavery, hate, injustice and segregation have taught an entire race of people to view themselves in terms defined by those who are guilty of perpetuating those vile deeds while simultaneously teaching another race they have more value and worth simply because of their pigmentation. While some men and women have risen above their circumstances and refused to see life in terms of black and white, many others are still living in a lie. Sadly, the Church has been and continues to be guilty of perpetuating that lie. We have done very little to help lift the veil from people’s eyes and give them a glimpse of heaven here on earth.
When Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, He told them to pray that God’s kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven. What else could that mean except that the Church is to be an earthly expression of a heavenly reality? What is that reality? It is the reality John saw. The reality Dr. King saw. The reality every ill-informed racist and victim of racism has been shocked to see upon entering into the presence of God by the blood of Christ. Unity.
If we were to rank the most overused and misunderstood words in our ecclesiastical vocabulary, unity would have to be in the top ten. We talk of unity on our church softball teams. We speak of unity for our students as they enter into the difficult task of going on a ski trip. We pray for unity as our adults quibble about the color of a ceiling or the shape of a pulpit. We don’t have a clue. While it is true that Jesus prayed that we would all be one, when He uttered those words, I do not think a church softball game was high on His list. I seriously doubt He was thinking primarily in terms of unity at a youth retreat to the mountains of Vermont or Colorado. We have so overused the word unity that it has lost much of its force and been rendered impotent.
Unity is what John saw. Unity is what every believer sees upon entering the eternal Kingdom. Unity is every nation, tribe, people and language worshiping God as one. No divisions. No black worship choir. No white gospel quartet. Just worship. Why is this so? One simple reason–not one of us will deserve to be there, but all are given the honor purely by the grace of God. One’s skin color does not matter when there is unity because we are worshiping a God who looks not on the outward appearance, but at the heart. The shape of one's eyes does not matter when there is unity because we are all seeing with the eyes of faith. Our national heritage does not matter when there is unity because as believers our citizenship is in heaven and our King is Jesus.
The Church must be about the business of unity–real unity. Equality and social justice are nice ideas, but I am not advocating the Church become involved in them. Those things are merely paint over a rusty old car. They simply conceal what is underneath rather than changing what is underneath. What is underneath in many churches, neatly hidden today is the subtle racism that says, “We worship together because we are comfortable with each other. We like OUR kind of music. The black people (or white people or Asian people) can worship their way and we will worship ours”
In order for there to be true social change and true equality, the Church must be on the front lines. Instead of excusing our segregation with fine-sounding words like contextualization, relevance and the like, we must face it head on. When God’s people do that, then and only then will real social equality be known. Social transformation always follows and never precedes heart transformation. Reconciliation is God’s business and since we are to be like Him, it must be our business as well. We must fight to see men reconciled to God, but it does not stop there. We must then fight to seen men reconciled one to another. That is unity.
With that said, I have a dream, too. I dream of a day when the Church will rise up and be a true agent of social change in the world, where white churches and black churches no longer exist. I have a dream,too. I dream of a day when the Church will wake up and realize that equality is not a political issue, but a biblical issue. It is not a social matter, but a matter of the heart. I dream of a day when God’s people will stand with one another as brothers and sisters rather than black brothers or white sisters. I dream of a day when the reality of heaven will become a reality here on earth, when we will stand together and worship the Savior who gave His life to reconcile us to Himself.