Friday, February 13, 2009

Moral responsibility in the face of Injustice ...

On April 12th 1963, a group of well intentioned, and no doubt capable and competent Clergy people in Birmingham Alabama wrote an open letter to those in thier community who were engaging in acts of civil disobedience. The authors of the letter maintained the rightness of their stance, and insisted that the status quo was just fine ... Thankfully in the fullness of time a young preacher by the name of Martin Luther King Jr replied, and the rest as they say - "IS HISTORY."

From St. Augustine thru Gandhi to King, Tutu, Mandela, Wallis and others the message is CLEAR - crystal clear - 'an unjust law is no law at all'.

Just because the majority says it is thus, doesn't mean justice is served.

Just because the rules and regulations are being followed doesn't mean justice is being served.

Just because the process has ground away at an issue doesn't mean a just solution has been reached.

Checks and balances exist for a reason.

Systems, processes and people are corruptable and often mis-informed and simply WRONG.

Civil disobedience, even within institutions like Churches is a necessary part of maintaining the never ending quest for justice.

There are those who would sooner quiet the voices like mine that will not cease in pointing at injustices (even minor ones) and challenging ALL to seek a better way.

Thus far, the better way has been denied in the United Church of Canada not just in my life, but in the lives of others ... the list grows by the day ... the drive for unionizing clergy is a clear indication of the need for a better way ... the dramatic increase in 363 Reviews (which are utterly devestating to those experiencing them) is a clear indication of the need for a better way ... the insistence that I "move on" while ignoring the reality that my experience in not one, but two Pastoral Charges was not unique but was shared by OTHERS who experienced the SAME things from the same people and families is a very very very clear indication that a better way must be sought ... (I had behaviours that needed addressing - and that in the fullness of time has happened - but there are others who are in need of having their own behaviour addressed too - and justice is NOT served by pretending this can not, should not, or won't happen!!)

We can hide our heads in the sand, or we can be faithful and seek that better way ...

In 1963, from a Jail cell The Rev. Martin Luther King jr penned his reply to the Clergy who no doubt wanted him to move on and let go. They likely also felt that his incarceration was fully justified and RIGHT.

Sometimes the majority is simply, utterly wrong ... and the letter written on April 12th 1963 lays that reality bare:

A Call for Unity

We the undersigned clergymen are among those who, in January, issued "an appeal for law and order and common sense," in dealing with racial problems in Alabama. We expressed understanding that honest convictions in racial matters could properly be pursued in the courts, but urged that decisions of those courts should in the meantime be peacefully obeyed.

Since that time there had been some evidence of increased forbearance and a willingness to face facts. Responsible citizens have undertaken to work on various problems which cause racial friction and unrest. In Birmingham, recent public events have given indication that we all have opportunity for a new constructive and realistic approach to racial problems.

However, we are now confronted by a series of demonstrations by some of our Negro citizens, directed and led in part by outsiders. We recognize the natural impatience of people who feel that their hopes are slow in being realized. But we are convinced that these demonstrations are unwise and untimely.

We agree rather with certain local Negro leadership which has called for honest and open negotiation of racial issues in our area. And we believe this kind of facing of issues can best be accomplished by citizens of our own metropolitan area, white and Negro, meeting with their knowledge and experience of the local situation. All of us need to face that responsibility and find proper channels for its accomplishment.

Just as we formerly pointed out that "hatred and violence have no sanction in our religious and political traditions," we also point out that such actions as incite to hatred and violence, however technically peaceful those actions may be, have not contributed to the resolution of our local problems. We do not believe that these days of new hope are days when extreme measures are justified in Birmingham.

We commend the community as a whole, and the local news media and law enforcement officials in particular, on the calm manner in which these demonstrations have been handled. We urge the public to continue to show restraint should the demonstrations continue, and the law enforcement officials to remain calm and continue to protect our city from violence.

We further strongly urge our own Negro community to withdraw support from these demonstrations, and to unite locally in working peacefully for a better Birmingham. When rights are consistently denied, a cause should be pressed in the courts and in negotiations among local leaders, and not in the streets. We appeal to both our white and Negro citizenry to observe the principles of law and order and common sense.

C. C. J. Carpenter, D.D., LL.D., Bishop of Alabama
Joseph A. Durick, D.D., Auxiliary Bishop, Diocese of Mobile, Birmingham
Rabbi Milton L. Grafman, Temple Emanu-El, Birmingham, Alabama
Bishop Paul Hardin, Bishop of the Alabama-West Florida Conference
Bishop Nolan B. Harmon, Bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the Methodist Church
George M. Murray, D.D., LL.D., Bishop Coadjutor, Episcopal Diocese of Alabama
Edward V. Ramage, Moderator, Synod of the Alabama Presbyterian Church in the United States
Earl Stallings, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama

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