As I write on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, two days before the inauguration of the 46th president of the United States, I am overwhelmed by the anxious times we are in, as citizens of the United States.
We are in a season of pandemic. COVID-19, yes. But it is more than that. Our political and social polarization is a symptom of several national illnesses: COVID-19. Racism. Hatred. While we will look to our president to lead the nation in governmental-level programs to combat these illnesses, they are challenges that depend on both individual and collective responsibility, to create safer and more equitable communities for everyone.
I pray that with this new year and this new administration, we American — and, indeed, global — followers of Jesus can unite under a banner of health, justice, peace and unity. In one way or another, we have each personally experienced the COVID-19 pandemic killing millions of people around the world. God's blessing of scientific progress has given us a ray of hope, but we must continue to act in ways that minimize the possibility of either catching the virus or transmitting it to others. With this in mind, I will continue being attentive to masking, social distancing, and avoiding large groups of people.
Last year, we continued to see terrible injustice, including the deaths of Black people and other people of color in our midst. With this historical truth finally sinking in, more White people are recognizing that we have actively, passively and sometimes naively profited from the 500-year pandemic of racism. Many White people are just beginning to understand what needs to change — we, as individuals, must walk the long road of self-education and self-reflection before we, as a society, can conquer the virus of White supremacy that perpetuates systems of oppression and inequity for our siblings of color. Let us no longer deny or delay — I commit myself to actively pursuing a just and equal society for everyone.
Just this month, we experienced the culmination of a pandemic of hatred in our nation's capital and in the Capitol building. Horrifyingly, we saw flags identifying "Christians" among the racist, antisemitic and xenophobic invaders of our Capitol. Surely, that outburst of hatred challenges each of us to pause and ask ourselves, "Am I okay with this? What do I hear Jesus calling me to do? And am I committed enough to do it?"
For it is the church, not the United States of America, that has been given the responsibility to be God's people in our world. Yet, as individuals and the church, we need to appeal to the governing authorities to change the structures that still perpetuate discrimination and inequality. We cannot be silent!
As a Christian, I cannot forget the importance of relationship: relationship with God and with my neighbor. When enough of us are actively engaged in building new and loving relationships with those around us, our society will no longer be driven by hatred and fear but toward God and unity. Unity in our country, and unity around the world, where all are equal children of God. That is what Jesus taught.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said it well, more than 60 years ago:
But the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of [all people].
from "Facing the Challenge of a New Age," 1956