Monday, January 19, 2004

So, today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It's sad that I've only thought of it as just another day off, rather than an opportunity to remember why he struggled for freedom and equality, so that "justice would roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."

Bill, in his message yesterday, mentioned King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." Since I spent my college years in Birmingham, I've read it quite a few times, and even took a course on "Civil Rights and Justice" with the amazing Dr. Ed LaMonte. (I wonder how his wife is doing now...)

Anyway, all this MLK Jr. stuff reminded me of an interesting incident I once heard. It was during my first January Interim term at Birmingham-Southern, when I spent four weeks working in an area our near the B'ham airport called Woodlawn. It was the inagural Woodlawn interim, and we were the guniea pigs.

The first day we boarded a city bus across from campus, and after many stops and changes and about two hours of bouncing along in the incompetent public transit of Birmingham, we finally arrived at Woodlawn United Methodist Church. The church was to be our home for the next week. As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by a former pastor of the church, who commenced our interim with an inspiring tale.

The pastor's name, I believe, was John Rutland, (I don't have my journal from that month, so I could be wrong about the name) and he was the pastor of WUMC during the civil rights movement. In the 1960's, Woodlawn was an affluent white neighborhood. Now, due to "white flight" to the suburbs, it is mostly inhabited by multi-ethnic homeless folks and a handful of aging residents. WUMC, along with some other churches in the area, has been working towards community revitalization and reconciliation, and the students of BSC were invited to come along for the ride. The minister gave us some of the history surrounging the church. He told us that Eugene "Bull" Connor, the obstinate B'ham police chief who turned the dogs and fire hoses on the children in Kelly Ingram Park, was once a member of Woodlwan UMC. After that infamous incident, Rev. Rutland denounced Connor's tactics from the pulpit, and supported Dr. King and the other protesters. Bull Connor, flabbergasted, immediately got up and stormed out.

The impact of that story, small though it may seem, has stayed with me these past five years. It wasn't often in those days that a white preacher would stand against those in power, and side with the civil rights movement. That pastor's integrity stands as a reminder of how God is working through those who are faithful to resist oppression in all its forms. Christ has overcome the world, and He is continuing to proclaim liberty to the captives, and herald justice, until He has put all enemies under His feet.

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