MLK’s response to “Call to Unity” still pertinent today

In April 1963 after five days of solitary confinement, Martin Luther King was shuffled to a regular jail cell and handed a Birmingham newspaper. Inside the pages, King found a “A Call to Unity” from eight white clergymen, urging King and his companions to cease their protests and be patient. They said King’s efforts were “untimely and unwise.”

            King picked up a pen and wrote a response in the margins of the newspaper. Rather than enlarge the divide between them, he started, “I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth.”

            Next, he looked for common ground to build on.

            “I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.”

            Fifty-seven years later in an era of riots and divisiveness, Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail offers pertinent words.

            “In 2020 we learned we can get into a dangerous place when we paint each other with a broad brush and don’t really listen to each other or really get to know each other,” said Russell Mord, Associational Missions Director at the Golden Triangle Baptist Association. “My hope for 2021 is that we will find ways to listen to one another. Someone is not ‘the bad guy’ just because they are in the opposing camp.”

            Mord says we have not yet achieved the dialogue Dr. King talked about.

            “Christians need to let our common faith be what pulls us together and binds us to one another. We’ve also got to be willing to die to self. Sometimes other people’s perspectives are threatening to what we’ve always done or what we cherish. It’s easy to be entrenched in a position when you don’t know anyone with an opposing view.”

            Fostering relationships across the racial divide is the aim of Neddie Winters, President of Mission Mississippi.

            “As people start talking to each other, they realize we are more alike than we are different. As we get to know each other, we change our stereotypical viewpoints. Many times, people find out they actually like each other,” Winters said.

            Winters agrees with Mord that we have yet to reach the dialogue King was aiming for.  

            “King was pushing for us to go relational. We passed laws, but we never built on that. Instead, we allowed our politics to dictate who we are. We are a brand. We ought to be a brand for Christ. It should be obvious that His love rules us,” Winters said.

            In his letter to the clergymen, King described how his tongue twisted and his speech stammered when he tried to explain to his six-year-old daughter why she couldn’t go to a new amusement park near Atlanta. Winters said black parents are still having to talk to their children about topics white parents generally do not have to broach.

            “When I was growing up, my daddy stressed to me how important it was for me to behave properly in public,” Winters said. “My daddy told me that the police were out to get me so that they would have someone to work on their roads.”

            His father’s concerns were shaped by The Mississippi Plan, which allowed Black citizens to be arrested for things such as vagrancy and forced to involuntary labor.

            Many Black parents still take great care in teaching their children how to interact with the police so that they do not get arrested or hurt.

            “When the news came out about Ahmaud Arbery, that really got to me. I have nine grandsons who are in his age range,” Winters said. “As our family talked about Arbery, my daughters and nieces became emotionally exhausted. So we started gathering on Zoom to pray for the men in our family every Tuesday night.”

            Over the last few months, their prayer list has grown to over 400 black men. “So now we meet on Zoom on Sunday nights so that I can find out who all these people are that we are praying for. My daughter in Houston has told me, ‘You just don’t know how much this prayer time has meant to me.’ Other family members have said the same.”

            While sharing one another’s burdens is integral to the Christian faith, members of American churches rarely cross racial lines to do so.

            “We’ve been so suspicious of one another for so long. But we have to be honest about our suspicions and work to overcome them by being willing to not be offended,” Mord said. “We need to get off our eggshells around one another and be honest. We’ve got to be able to ask hard questions. And we’ve got to be ready to hear the hard answers.”

            Winters also talked about the lack of trust he has seen between the races in his lifetime.

“For years, white folks would not invite us into their homes for social gatherings. Yet my mother was in their home, cooking all three of their meals,” he said. 

            Too often politics become an insurmountable barrier among Christians of different races.

            “Our commitment to Christ should be setting the standard, not our culture, not our class, not our customs,” Winters said. “If we have to choose between our color and our Christianity, we are in trouble.

            Mord points out that the Bible teaches that in heaven people will maintain their earthly ethnic identity.

            “We see the secret of racial reconciliation in Revelation 7. People from every tribe come together to worship Jesus. God doesn’t make us all look the same or miraculously give us the same background once we get to heaven,” he said.

            Living out reconciliation in present circumstances is difficult but possible. 

            “We are most easily offended when we feel like our way of life or identity is threatened,” Mord said. “When we hold to our faith in God above all else, we can talk about the issues without being threatened.”

            The past year’s divisiveness has left no stone unturned. Christians have gone toe-to-toe, including leaders within the Southern Baptist Convention.

            “I’m just thankful they are willing to have the discussion and communicate about race issues. They are taking initiative to deal with the problems, and that’s good,” Winters said. “Right now I am participating in a group study on The Church and The Racial Divide that gives me hope for 2021. It’s really exciting for me to get know these people who are black and white from all across the nation.”
            The Church and The Racial Divide was published by The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

            “Possibly the strongest indicator of change can be found in churches on Sunday morning as people bring their own biracial children and grandchildren to worship with them. And everyone is accepted and loved. This is happening more and more often,” Mord said.  “I think personal relationships—especially family ties to children—and the gospel are breaking down barriers.”

            As the calendar turned to 2021, Americans looked hopefully to a clean slate. However, recent events indicate the need for hard work in order to uproot divisiveness.

            “We keep passing on a legacy of the ruins of racism because we aren’t doing anything intentional about it,” Winters said. “My hope for 2021 is that we will go deeper with God and deeper with each other.  The closer we get to our Father, the closer we get to our siblings. We need to get to know each other by building relationships of trust, respect, and truthfulness. This takes intentional effort.”

            Mission Mississippi provides opportunities for individuals to connect across racial lines. Those interested may call (601) 353-6477 or visit to missionmississippi.org.

Three steps we can take toward racial reconciliation

            I can’t breathe.

            It’s a cry that has been uttered for centuries in America.

            But we haven’t had ears to hear.

            Now as George Floyd says them over and over in our newsfeeds, will we listen? Or will we focus instead on the riots flaming across our country?

            May 2020 highlighted what many of us don’t want to see: much room remains for racial reconciliation in our country.

            First came the video from Georgia showing that Ahmad Arbery had not died in the midst of a home burglary like his mother had been told in February. Then last Friday, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden ended a radio interview with, “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.” A few days later on Memorial Day, video surfaced of a policeman kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes.

            As we begin June, let’s glean some 20/20 clarity from these pivotal moments.

  1. Racial tension is not just a Southern problem. Minnesota is about as far north as you can get.
  2. Racial tension is not just a Republican problem. Biden’s remark affirms the assertion by  Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) that Biden did not support African Americans’ right to the same quality of education as whites in the 1970s.

            Scrolling Facebook, I see many Southern white folks beginning to speak out against the problem of racism in our country. I’m so thankful to see the suffocating silence being shattered.

            What about you? Are you comfortable speaking out? If you are like me, it’s hard to know what to say. And I don’t want to be hasty with my words. Afterall, I realize I will never fully understand what it means to be a person of color in America. I might say something that’s wrong. I am learning that I don’t have to know what to say to get started. And I don’t have to always get it right as long as I’m willing to press in to understand.

            The best first step is to listen. Until we have a desire to understand why Floyd’s death would ignite riots among some in the black community, we will continue to understate the problem of racism in our country. What are your African American friends saying in your newsfeed about Arbery and Floyd? Stop and ponder their words. For many, it takes more courage than we realize for our African American friends to speak on these issues. If you don’t have friends who are people of color, then consider starting by listening to the folks below. These are people who love the Lord and are grieved by racism in America.

  1. Trillia Newbell on The World and Everything in It
  2. Pastor Jason Delgado’s interview with Jimmy Rollins
  3. Jim Dennison’s interview with Tyrone Johnson, “What does it mean to be black in America today?”
  4. Benjamin Watson’s Under our Skin
  5. Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy.
  •             When we listen with openness, the next step becomes clearer: there is much to grieve. The Biblical word ‘lament’ is very fitting. In his book Dark Clouds, Deep Mercies, Mark Vroegop explores how we are deprived when lament is absent in our communities. He writes this about lamenting racial injustice: “Lament has the potential to provide a first step toward uniting people when hurt and misunderstanding are in the air. The sacred song of sorrow does not resolve all racial tension or injustice. But it does give the church a prayer language of compassion and a starting point toward understanding.”  

Lament may be uncomfortable, but it’s a language we can learn.

            While I’m encouraged by the number of white Christians who are speaking up, I’m deeply concerned about those who apply the beauty of our justice system only to the white side of the equation. For example, when the video of Ahmaud Arbery’s death went viral, some folks were quick to point out that we didn’t know all the details. They said the McMichaels could have had a very legitimate reason to pursue Arbery with guns and warned we needed to wait for their case to be tried in court. Yet they were silent when it came to Arbery’s rights. In the end, when the McMichaels decided to use a gun, a young man’s life ended before he could stand before a jury of his peers. How sad that the people who were insisting on the McMichael’s right to a fair trial didn’t mention Arbery’s right to the same. When more evidence came out pointing to a lynch-style murder, these folks were silent still.

            As the mom of a policeman who works very hard to protect his community, the incident with George Floyd hit closer to home. I know cops have to make quick decisions in very tough situations. My husband and I regularly pray for our son to have wisdom in those moments, but it still scares me. One of my proudest mom moments was when my son first began his career. He had covered an accident involving injuries. Little did my son know that one of the drivers in that accident was the son of the local NAACP president. A few days later Josh received a letter from him. The NAACP president thanked my son for the caring and courteous way he handled all involved. First, I was very proud of my son for being recognized for showing care regardless of skin color. Second, I was thankful that this black man would take the time to thank my son and build a positive relationship with a white cop.

            After listening and lamenting, I think the next best step is to do what this NAACP president did for my son: build up the relationships in our corners of the world that are weak.

            Hebrews 12:12-16 encourages us, “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled…”

            Racism isn’t a partisan problem or a regional problem.

            Whether we like it or not, racism is every American’s problem.

            In the midst of all this brokenness, Christians have an incredible opportunity. We can join together—both black and white—to bring healing. We are especially equipped to shoulder this weight. We have the truth of God’s word, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the love of Christ.

            Let’s make 2020 live up to its name. Let’s make this a year of clarity. We can do this. We can step out of our echo chambers and explore the hurting world beyond. And the more we understand, the more compelled we will be to break the suffocating silence.

PS If you live in Mississippi, consider joining MissionMississippi.org.

Beautiful book helps little ones deal with anger

            It’s no secret that learning to deal with anger is a life-long process. However, figuring out how to help children apply Biblical truths to emotions can prove challenging.

            When I came across the delightful Jax’s Tail Twitches, I was excited to find an engaging story that explores how the Gospel helps us deal with anger.

Continue reading “Beautiful book helps little ones deal with anger”

COVID-19: A new concern for children plus what to expect after recovering and more

This is Part 6 in my series with Dr. Phil Pearson on COVID-19. Dr. Pearson has practiced medicine for 39 years. He is an elder at Broadmoor Baptist, and he and his wife are well-respected members of our local community. For many years, Dr. Pearson also taught conceal-carry classes in our area.

After a recent day of running errands in our community, I was tired of taking precautions and disinfecting while many folks seemed to be throwing caution to the wind. So, I asked Dr. Pearson, “If I am a healthy person with no known underlying conditions under 60, isn’t it better to just go ahead and get it over with?”

Continue reading “COVID-19: A new concern for children plus what to expect after recovering and more”

Mask Confusion and Myths about Immunity in Isolation

This is Part 5 in my series with Dr. Phil Pearson on COVID-19. Dr. Pearson has practiced medicine for 39 years. He is an elder at Broadmoor Baptist, and he and his wife are well-respected members of our local community. For many years, Dr. Pearson also taught conceal-carry classes in our area.

Only eight weeks have passed since the World Health Organization declared the corona virus outbreak to be a pandemic.

March 11, 2020 seems a lifetime ago. And in pandemic time, it was.

State and local governments are quickly assessing the best way to handle a virus that unknown just a few months ago.

This week, citizens in my community will be required to wear masks in public places.

As one might expect in our glorious democracy, public debate has been intense.

Continue reading “Mask Confusion and Myths about Immunity in Isolation”

COVID-19: Distorted Data, and Constitutional Rights

This is Part 4 in my series with Dr. Phil Pearson on COVID-19. Dr. Pearson has practiced medicine for 39 years. He is an elder at Broadmoor Baptist, and he and his wife are well-respected members of our local community. For many years, Dr. Pearson also taught conceal-carry classes in our area.

Today Governor Reeves announced that outdoor gatherings of 20 or less are now permitted. Restaurants will be allowed to resume outdoor dining, as well as indoor dining that is 50% capacity or less. Governor Reeves said restaurants have strict orders to follow, including that servers must wear masks.

Continue reading “COVID-19: Distorted Data, and Constitutional Rights”

COVID-19: Distorted Data, Constitutional Rights, and Hype

 Today Governor Reeves announced that outdoor gatherings of 20 or less are now permitted. Restaurants will be allowed to resume outdoor dining, as well as indoor dining that is 50% capacity or less. Governor Reeves said restaurants have strict orders to follow, including that servers must wear masks.

“We have to keep fighting. The threat is not over. We must stay vigilant,” Governor Reeves said Monday afternoon.

As Mississippi gradually reopens, many citizens debate the best way forward.

News reporters as well as doctors on social media have reported that COVID-19 is not as serious as first thought.

Dr. Phil Pearson says now is not the time to let our guard down.

“This is the first disease in which well individuals are tested, and then those numbers are combined with the test results of sick individuals to compile data,” Dr. Pearson said. “So when you look at mortality rates of COVID-19 but include asymptomatic persons and compare that to influenza in which only symptomatic persons are counted you get a distortion.”

Such distortion makes the death rate for COVID-19 look statistically insignificant. If data was collected on how many asymptomatic influenza carriers there are in any flu season, the death rate among infected people would decrease because it would include both symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals.

“Those with positive COVID-19 tests but no symptoms skew the numbers towards mild disease,” Dr. Pearson said. “We do not do that with any other diseases. Medical studies show that many people are asymptomatic carriers in illnesses such as the flu and chicken pox, but we do not use positive test results from well individuals when we compile data.”

In general 80% of COVID-19 cases are mild like influenza. Current studies show that it takes an average of 15 days for a person with COVID-19 to overcome the virus and test negative.

Dr. Pearson points out that is an average. “We currently have a patient who has been positive longer than one month and still symptomatic.”

During the 2018-2019 flu season, US fatalities were estimated at 34,200. In just two months, the United States has had over 60,000 COVID-19 deaths—and that’s with incomplete data.

“COVID is present at larger numbers in our community now than at any previous time,” Dr. Pearson said. “You are more likely to spread or contract the disease now.”

During April, shelter-in-place orders slowed the spread, but they also dealt a severe blow to Mississippi’s economy. The economic strain and mental health strain bolster our need to make sure our constitutional rights are protected. However, balancing all the concerns isn’t a simple matter.

What about our constitutional rights during a pandemic?

“Wise and prudent recommendations are important for public health benefits but criminalizing constitutionally protected rights is a poor way to deal with unwise or foolish abuse of those rights,” Dr. Pearson said.

First amendment rights of free exercise of religion and peaceful assembly are protected rights. However, church members of Temple Baptist Church in Greenville, Mississippi were fined $500 in April for having drive-up services, despite remaining in their cars and being parked six feet apart. The mayor relented after two lawsuits and intervention from the US Department of Justice.

“There is Supreme Court precedent for infringement during the Spanish Flu but there has to be overwhelming public interest at stake,” Dr. Pearson said.

Choosing whether or not to take precautions while in a public place is not necessarily a protected right, because failure to take precautions can infringe on the rights of others.

At-risk people also have rights, too.

“I like the saying that ‘your rights end where mine begin,’” Dr Pearson said. “Exposing an at-risk person to COVID infringes on that individual’s right of expectation of safety.” 

Criminal penalties have been upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States for intentionally exposing someone to HIV virus. Many jurisdictions have also upheld laws requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets. Judges point out that consequences are not limited to the injured motorcyclist. For example, the Massachusetts Supreme Court said, “From the moment of the injury, society picks up the person off the highway; delivers him to a municipal hospital and municipal doctors; provides him with unemployment compensation if, after recovery, he cannot replace his lost job, and, if the injury causes permanent disability, may assume the responsibility for his and his family’s continued subsistence.”

Dr. Pearson believes it’s possible that neglecting to take reasonable measures to slow the spread of the virus could be penalized under such precedence.

How do we know what’s hype about COVID-19 and what’s not?

Sifting through the plethora of information on social media and in the news can be overwhelming. Several doctors have published videos promoting the idea that CDC data indicates the concern about COVID-19 has been exaggerated.

“Some doctors assert their extensive training and years of experience to justify their opinions. Having an opinion is reasonable and expected. But when a doctor vaunts such opinions as more important than those who have credentials and training in infectious disease, he or she can mislead public opinion in a detrimental way,” Dr. Pearson said.

Before latching on to a doctor’s specific recommendations, Dr. Pearson recommends checking that doctor’s background.

“Consider that physician’s experience. Do they have real credentials in the area in which they espouse expertise? An epidemiologist will have extensive training in the incidence, distribution, and control of diseases; a public health doctor has extensive training on monitoring the spread of disease among populations; a virologist has extensive training in viruses,” Dr. Pearson said.

Healthcare professionals are not just dealing with the exhaustion and trauma of this virus, but some are also sustaining heavy financial losses.

According to a report on WTVA, North Mississippi Health Services expects to lose $28 million a month until patient volume resumes. Currently, they have experienced a 40% to 60% drop in patient visits. USA Today reports this trend is widespread across America.

How do we balance public health concerns and economic disaster?

Public health and economic health are intrinsically woven together in a pandemic. Concerns about public health cannot be accurately weighed without taking into consideration concerns about economic disaster, and vice versa. There are no easy answers.

“In my opinion, this should be viewed as a balance scale. Easing restrictions and increasing the economy should be weighed against increased infection and deaths. One important question to ask ourselves is, ‘How much return to normal is increased mortality worth?’” Dr. Pearson said.

“I do not believe that we can or should prevent all COVID-19 illnesses or deaths by these measures,” Dr. Pearson emphasized. “But how much loosening of restrictions does one want until it is balanced by fatalities? Statistics do not seem important until it is your family, loved one, or friend who might die.”

Conclusion

The end of this pandemic is not clearly in sight. Until effective treatment and vaccines are available, the world as we know it will be impacted by COVID-19.

“If you follow the numbers on national or local infections and mortality, you will see that we are still in the midst of increasing COVID infections,” Dr. Pearson pointed out. “So the real truth, as I see, it is to consider the two sides of a balance scale. Reopening the economy benefits most Americans but also increases COVID and therefore mortality. So the question is, how much COVID infection and mortality are we willing to tolerate balanced against economic and personal freedoms.”

Dr. Pearson ended by saying, “I am not advocating one side or the other. We, as a people, will have to decide what we are willing to do. We cannot stop all COVID infections, or any other contagious disease for that matter, by isolation and other measures, but we can decrease the numbers and slow the progression.”

Never in the history of the world has the human race had the medical advancement and resources to stop a pandemic as soon as we do now.

What matters is how we handle the interim.

Many people in our communities desperately need to go back to work so that they can pay bills. But they also have the right to work in environments where reasonable precautions are being taken to protect their health.

America is at its best and prospers most when we are passionate about protecting and aiding the self-advancement, independence, and well-being of all.

“In humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”—Philippians 2:3-4

Coming next time: Why you should beware of medical experts who claim that our immune system gets weaker if we are isolated.

For other articles in this series with our family doctor:

Part 1: How Serious is COVID-19?

Part 2: How Can We Slow the Spread?

Part 3: What do we need to re-think about daily life in a COVID-19 era?

Biblical encouragement for these trying times:

Quarantine Squabblings? Biblical counsel for turning conflict into growth

A fun devo about what my grandson taught me about resting in the Lord

Hope in a Pandemic

Conflict: An Opportunity for Growth

Many strange paradoxes are emerging with COVID-19.

One woman recently described quarantine life with her husband in her hilarious assessment on Facebook, “At first it was really nice, like one long weekend. But this entire experience has made me very much aware that I want a man in my life, just not in my house.”

Our appreciation for human connection has deepened. But annoyances that we might otherwise brush off are wearing on us.

Continue reading “Conflict: An Opportunity for Growth”

Rethinking Daily Life in a COVID-19 Era

This is Part 3 in my series with Dr. Phil Pearson on COVID-19. Dr. Pearson has practiced medicine for 39 years. He is an elder at Broadmoor Baptist, and he and his wife are well-respected members of our local community. For many years, Dr. Pearson also taught conceal-carry classes in our area.

Governor Tate Reeves announced today that Mississippi will extend the current shelter-in-place orders until April 27.

 As Mississippians begin to consider returning to normal routines in a COVID-19 era, families and individuals are re-thinking some everyday practices.

“When shelter-in-place orders are over, COVID will still be in communities and will still be contagious to many,” Dr. Pearson said.

Continue reading “Rethinking Daily Life in a COVID-19 Era”

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