Dear Fellow Dreamers:
Yesterday morning was the La Grange area Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Prayer Breakfast sponsored by the Caring Place, a great community ministry here in La Grange. Members of our own Food for Life team helped with preparations, and representatives from nearly every community congregation participated in the program. The event ended with an invitation for us each to take a pledge of commitment to Dr. King’s dream of equality, justice, non-violence and unity.
During breakfast we were invited to talk with one another regarding the impact Dr. King’s work had on our lives, either directly through civil rights participation, or indirectly by living in a world that had been changed by King’s message.
I grew up in a tradition that taught distance from the political world. We were not disdainful of those engaged in social struggle; it just wasn’t presumed to be any of our business. The Church was to be engaged in saving souls. Christ was going to return any day. The preachers and elders of my childhood saw civil engagement as a transient waste of time. True integration and justice was something that only Christ could bring when the principalities and powers of this age would be destroyed; only God’s kingdom could bring true community. Our work, in the meantime, was to evangelize the world into that future kingdom without the distraction of temporal politics.
My parents loved when Dr. King spoke of the future realm of God’s equality. They believed the Promised Land of which he preached could only be accomplished at the end of history, in the sweet by and by; they were less impressed and considered Dr. King naïve when he suggested anything of the sort could happen within human history. Expressions of racism were not permitted in our house; treating others with equality, dignity and respect was an inner spiritual goal. People of all nations, races and cultures would be our neighbors in eternity, so we had best prepare our hearts in this life for the diversity of the next. But the complexities of a universal peaceable kingdom were God’s works, not ours. At least that was what I had been taught.
Over time, the congregation of my youth became uncomfortable with changes in the old neighborhood. Car break-ins during evening worship, intoxicated homeless sleeping on the front steps and Omaha’s lax prostitution laws created a sudden evangelistic burden for the lost souls of the suburbs and a withering of commitment to those people downtown. A multimillion-dollar facility was constructed 10 miles away, and the building that had housed their community for over 50 years became a parking lot. The congregation quickly returned to the Gospel of political detachment, but in a community significantly less diverse than the one that had brought the problems of social injustice to their front door.
Now, 40 years after their great migration, downtown Omaha has redeveloped. Two years ago, they opened a satellite downtown church campus with a newfound burden for young couples occupying the trendy lofts for young professionals in a community rebranded as Midtown. That’s the problem with an “apolitical” Christianity; it only works when you have enough money to keep moving.
There was an inescapable realism to Dr. King’s message for social change; even if you attempt to ignore it, you are still an inevitable participant. Reconciliation, unity, justice and non-violence cannot be truly longed for in the sweet by and by if they are not fought for in the here and now.
Seeking to live the right dream, I remain
Jonathan B. Krogh