By Dr. Ron Morrison, lead pastor of Hope Alliance Bible Church in Maple Heights, Ohio
On April 26, 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King spoke at my high school in Cleveland, Ohio. Being preoccupied with my dreams of a future in professional sports that would grant me access to everything I ever wanted, I did not realize the magnitude of the moment. His prophetic challenge to us to “pick up books, not bricks” was ignored by many as riots continued to be the mode of expression for many who were frustrated. We graduated the next year, amidst continued civil unrest, only months after an assassin’s bullet ushered Dr. King into the only place where full equality is realized because Christ is worshiped in sincerity and truth.
The United States seems to be experiencing levels of disagreement and disunity reminiscent of the days of the Civil War. It is difficult to find a rallying or unifying point for any cause or value that would garner more than a simple majority of Americans to agree on. In such an environment, is it possible that the dream of being assessed by biblical standards rather than external differences, so passionately voiced by Dr. King, is likely to become a reality? Does the church feel it is important enough to fight for?
During Black History month each year, I intentionally seek to learn something new about—or develop a greater appreciation for—the suffering, sacrifices, and service of African-Americans in our beloved nation. I also focus on learning about the contributions made by those who were part of the Body of Christ yet not always equally recognized by the professing church.
I was inspired by the words of the Rev. Lott Carey, an ex-slave and black Baptist missionary to West Africa, as he prepared to set sail on the Nautilus back in 1821.
“This step is not to promote my own fortune, nor am I influenced by any sudden impulse. I have counted the cost and have scarfed all my worldly possessions to this undertaking. I am prepared to meet imprisonment or even death in carrying out the purpose of my heart. It may be that I shall behold you no more on this side of the grave, but I feel bound to labor for my brothers, perishing as they are in a far distant land of Africa. For their sake and for Christ’s sake I am happy in leaving all and venturing all” (Lives of Virginia Baptist Ministers by J.B. Taylor, published in 1837).
Rev. Carey and his teammates were among the early heroes of the U.S. church, yet their sacrifice and dedication was not as well publicized as others.
I would strongly suggest we do a better job of teaching one another about the important contributions of every people group to the worldwide efforts of Kingdom advancement. It is a sad commentary on our society that we ever made it sound as if the achievements of African-Americans were remarkable because of inherent weaknesses, rather than a testimony of God’s Spirit working through a willing human spirit to overcome incredible obstacles.
Our Lord was unmistakably clear about His will for demonstrable unity, equality, and sacrificial love among His children and followers. He tore down the walls that separated Jews and Gentiles, (Ephesians 2:14–16) yet we have strategically and systematically erected walls that separate ethnic groups. As we renew our efforts to work together as one new creation in Christ, a redeemed humanity that celebrates uniqueness for the glory of God, then we can be used to be bridge builders rather than wall builders.