Till Justice Runs Down Like Water (May-Jun 2002)

By Matt Dabbs

by George Pendergrass
May – June, 2002

Growing up in New York City in the early 1960s and 70s, the words and thoughts of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. literally shaped my thinking and inspired me to believe that social change was possible.

It is easy to assume that as far as social or racial inequality was concerned people who lived in Northern cities of the United States like New York were basically free from the those worries. The truth is that those issues were just as real there but they took on a different look. The look for people of color was despair, apathy and hopelessness. Although racism was not as overtly hostile, the lack of opportunity was very obvious. Have you seen this look before? Do you see this look in the faces of your fellow Americans?

People who live in this country today are the recipients of great blessings and curses. We have received the blessings of prosperity, which came through the grace of God, hard work, tenacity and the indomitable spirit to pursue our dreams and independence. Along with these great blessings we have also received a number of curses. Our country since its inception has struggled with the trials and hardships of social inequality and racial tensions. These curses are the results of ignorance, greed and a desire to control the lives of those around us. Unfortunately the losers in struggles like these are those with the least amount of power, position and influence.

During this period, African Americans and other ethnic people of color were simply considered second class citizens and of little social, political, economic, educational and personal value to society. The singular focus of that time was change.

“No, no we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied till justice runs down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke these words in Washington D.C., his renowned I Have a Dream speech echoed the feelings of millions of oppressed people worldwide.

Today the lines are blurred and it becomes a lot more difficult for people to answer the concerns of racial and social justice. Are the lines, however, really that blurred and indistinguishable or have we taken the tranquilizing drugs of complacency, apathy and gradualism, hoping that time will do what we are afraid to do?

I am a specialist for STARS (Students Taking A Right Stand), a program in Tennessee schools. I am confronted with the following despairing questions every day. After each question, I give my response.

Why are things different for so many people of color than they are for others? Like it or not we live in a country torn apart by the ravages of racial discrimination and prejudices. As a result of these type problems there is an imbalance and struggle between those families who have and those who have not. The real question that our society must deal with is, Why is it that the have nots are usually people of color? These kinds of glaring inequalities and social distinctions only serve to confirm to our children that in this country the color of your skin, the family you are born into and even the places you live will determine what side of the fence of opportunity you find yourself on. These are some of the crippling thoughts that haunt so many young African American men and other people of color. Life, however, does not always give you a short stick and a hard way to go. Many young men like myself and others who have been given more than we could ask or imagine must constantly remind and inspire those coming after us that there is light at the other end of the sometimes dark tunnel of life. Remind them to look up and live in spite of what goes on around them.

“How shall the young secure their hearts, and keep their conscience clean, and avoid despairing distinctions that humiliate, and cause them to be mean. Thy word the choicest rules impart, are clear and plain to see, but these are just words on an empty page, until it breeds equality.”

How wonderful it would be if there was no need for the government to intervene with polices like busing and affirmative action; if all men received just due for their intrinsic value and were judged by the content of their character. Yes, how wonderful life would be, but then again there would be no need for this article, no need for encouragement and definitely no need to combat evil. Unfortunately that state of affairs only exists in an ideal world not yet come to pass.

I am living proof that things can change. Thirty years ago I would have never imagined the social, political, and educational changes that could occur just as a result of non-violent resistance. I’m convinced there is a lot more that can be done when people are determined and they put their hearts, heads and resources together to bring about change (Gen.11: 6).

When all things have been considered, do all children have the same amount of chances and opportunities to improve the quality of their lives? To think that all children in the United States despite their race, creed or color have an equal opportunity to improve the quality of their lives might be a little bit too much to hope for even for an incurable idealist like myself. To assume, however, that those chances and opportunities don’t exist because you may be one of the millions of people of color would be to minimize the changes that many have died for. Thinking of that nature limits the power of a mighty dream maker and diminishes the creative use of the most powerful forces ever given to the human race: faith and the human spirit. We cannot erase the past two hundred and twenty-six year of some of America’s most shameful history, nor can we even the score of social opportunity in this country. It is, however, the right, privilege and heavenward responsibility of all God’s children to strive to make things a little bit better than we found them, no matter the obstacles and barriers we must overcome (Phil. 3:12-15).

What are the barriers and obstacles facing children of color in this generation? Indeed we would be negligent and naive if we were to overlook the many wonderful and monumental social changes that have occurred in our great nation. We are still plagued with the consequences of many years of institutionalized racism, unconscious presuppositions and unspoken fears. These come from family, gender, racial and class distinctions. Consequently we must also be willing to accept the fact that we still have a long way to go before our nation resembles the picture of justice and opportunity the Lord paints for us in Isaiah 58.

Do we the people of God have any special responsibility or role to play in the plight for justice? Without a doubt the church has a role to play in the struggle for justice and it’s a leading role. Allow me to be so bold and challenge every white Christian male and female who has been given substance, power and position in America to do something of lasting value for the cause of justice with what you’ve been given. Let me encourage every African American and every Christian man or woman of color who has been blessed with means and influence to open your eyes and realize the possibilities around you. We must desperately strive to move beyond bitterness, envy and hatred for they are blinding and can prohibit growth and change. I say the church should resemble the practices and policies of many social and community organizations instead of staunch and stagnant vacant ivory towers that litter our neighborhoods and pray on the wealth and guilt of good men and women. Brothers and sisters in Christ, we’ve been given awesome blessings and to everyone who has been given extraordinary abilities, extraordinary tasks and responsibilities are required (Lk.12: 47, 48).

Is there really a need today to struggle for justice? The need to struggle for justice is as real and pressing a need today as it was in the first century. We must lift our heads and broaden the scope of our vision because as long as there is injustice for some people there can never be true justice for all people. It becomes very easy to close our eyes and forget that the struggle goes on when the battle is not within view, when our freedoms are not taken for granted, or our dignities humiliated. Our Lord, however, has always viewed justice as priority for his people. Therefore, our goals are inextricably linked to the cause of justice (Luke. 4:18,19).

Is there any hope for future change or will things always remain the way they are? There is good news and bad news to a question like this. On one hand, we don’t want to believe that some problems will always plague our lives. On the other hand, we know what the needs are because they are always present. Therefore, the task is not how well we eliminated or conquered the problem, but how valiantly we fought, how constantly we strove to make a difference on the insurmountable and seemingly impenetrable problems of justice in our times. New Wineskins

George Pendergrass

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This author published 1598 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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