Last week at SCF we celebrated the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., and others who fought for civil rights. As a minority in the U.S., I see the issues of racial tensions, but I’m not always sure how to address and think through them. As an Indian- born American citizen, this week has taught me that I should be more grateful for those who fought for civil rights. Their efforts have allowed me specific rights as a U.S. citizen, as well as legal protection from discriminatory practices. The lecture on the life and faith of MLK and watching the movie Selma also reminded me that the gospel is a beautiful solution to an ugly problem that lies in all of us.

Right by the front door of my home resides a framed document that shows that this duplex is up to code to be considered a rental. On the bottom of the document in bold capital letters contains this phrase:

 

East Lansing ordinances prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodation and public service because of religion, race, color, national origin, age… Persons denied of equal opportunity because of these reasons may file a complaint with the East Lansing Human Relations Commission…

 

It’s hard to wrap my mind around the fact that these events in history happened in the lifetime of my parents. In 1963, several months before his assassination, President Kennedy proposed to Congress to consider the civil rights legislation that would address voting rights, public accommodations, school desegregation, and nondiscrimination. This became the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned discriminatory practices in employment and ended segregation in public places. This law that was put in place 51 years ago is the reason that I am legally protected from discrimination and able to rent in the city of East Lansing. Those words on that document are why we should celebrate the life and legacy of MLK Jr., and others who fought for civil rights.

Those words also point to an ugly problem that lies in all of us. There has to be legal protection from discrimination because humans are sinful by nature. Even with laws in place, the reality that we need to remember is that laws do not change the heart. Jeremiah 17:9 describes our true condition: ” The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” MLK understood this condition to be true. On March 3 1968, he preached at his church Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta,

 

But you know, some of us feel that it’s a tension between God and man. And in every one of us this morning, there’s a war going on. It’s a civil war. I don’t care who you are, I don’t care where you live, there is a civil war going on in your life. And every time you set out to be good, there’s something pulling on you, telling you to be evil. It’s going on in your life. Every time you set out to love, something keeps pulling on you, trying to get you to hate. Every time you set out to be kind and say nice things about people, something is pulling on you to be jealous and envious and to spread evil gossip about them.[1]

 

In the movie Selma, you can see the brokenness of man from the beginning. The movie begins with MLK receiving the Nobel Peace Prize and the deaths of four black girls in the bombing of a church in Alabama. It shows the structural racism in place that prevents Blacks from acquiring the right to vote. It illustrates the hate-filled heart of those in power. You see the brutal violent actions that killed Jimmy Lee Jackson and James Reeb, a minister from Boston. It makes my stomach churn when I remember that this was the reality 50 years ago. These are real people who were denied basic rights and disregarded as humans. The next verse in Jeremiah 17 brings conviction, but it also can bring comfort. It says, ” I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”

This verse explains that God gives to every man according to his ways. God knows our hearts. We deserve punishment for our disobedience. Yet the good news is that Christ has stepped in our place, taken our deserved punishment for sin and God’s wrath. His righteousness is now ours. Christ, through his blood, has brought us near to God and that blood brings all of God’s children from every tribe, tongue, and nation together

 

…Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility

-Ephesians 2:12-16

 

The movie Selma left me feeling saddened by our nation’s sinful record of racism and discrimination. But I am grateful for the actions of thousands to fight for civil rights in the U.S. and I am filled with hope knowing that the gospel offers peace, justice, and reconciliation to everyone – Black, Indian or otherwise.

 

[1] http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/kingpapers/article/unfulfilled_dreams/