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McPherson, Kansas – It was in 1983 that President Ronald Reagan first signed a bill designating the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. as a federal holiday. In a proclamation, celebrating the first observance of Martin Luther King Day in 1986, President Reagan said, “Dr. King, by his preaching, his example, and his leadership, helped to move us closer to the ideals on which America was founded. He challenged us to make real the promise of America as a land of freedom, equality, opportunity, and brotherhood.”[i]
Over the last 35 years, I have celebrated Martin Luther King Day with hopeful optimism, believing that the legacy left by Dr. King continued to influence our growth as a nation. I genuinely trusted that the tide of humanity was deliberately, even if slowly at times, moving forward in pursuit of that dream where we could all celebrate the “joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity”.
This year, as I prepare to once again reflect on the work of Dr. King, I find that the hopeful confidence I have long held has been grievously subverted by the events of this past year. In the months that have followed since my last observance of Dr. King’s legacy, we have been confronted with the bitter reality of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, the many more killed in riots and protests, and just within the last few weeks, we witnessed further bloodshed associated with the Capital Hill insurgency. Even within the safe harbors of this great institution, I have noted the distressing echoes of injustice, and while perhaps fueled by ignorance, the specter of its presence is no less alarming.
If anything, these events suggest that though emancipation was won 159 years ago, and 50 years of civil rights have helped to further cast off the shackles of prejudice and intolerance, the journey remains unfinished. How can this be? How can a century and a half of freedom find us still struggling against the lash of intolerance?
It is then that I am reminded of Dr. King’s words shared when eulogizing the death of four girls following the bombing of a church in 1963. While the words were specific to the four girls, I believe they are no less pertinent to the deaths and events we have witnessed this last year.
“these [deaths] have something to say to every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained-glass windows. They have something to say to every politician who has fed his constituents the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism…. they have something to say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely with WHO…but about the system, the way of life and the philosophy which PRODUCED [their deaths].”[ii]
Perhaps that is the message that I should reflect on as I once again commemorate the legacy of Dr. King, the call to become more than just an observer of history, but an active participant willing to contend with those forces and philosophies that would seek to derail our pursuit to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with…God” (Micah 6:8). It is one thing to cheer on the champions, watching as they sacrifice life and limb, lauding the victories and lamenting the losses, all the while remaining safe from the struggle. Is this what Christ asks of us; to be mere spectators, fans of good efforts, and critics of failed campaigns?
Dr. King believed that freedom could find a way if “the conscience of the great decent majority who through blindness, fear, pride, and irrationality have allowed their consciences to sleep” would wake up and take a stand. If so, then in the spirit of Ephesians 5, I say to us all, “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead” and let Christ shine upon us and through us.
We should consider that the call to Christ is not just a personal journey, a private offering, narrowly designed as an individual path toward redemption. It is also a call to become Christ’s ambassador, agents of redemption – reconciling humanity with God and one another.
That means, in our role as an institution, we cannot tolerate ideologies or individuals that endorse hate, prejudice, bigotry, or any other form of discrimination or malice, whether intentional or unintentional. Our reciprocal focus on Christ and Character compels us to sustain a community where every individual is treated with dignity and respect.
Therefore, I challenge every one of us to critically reflect on our language, behavior, and beliefs, that we would all discover ways to intentionally eliminate the taint of racism and bigotry that continues to linger in our society, and that we would be willing to stand in the gap, to take the field, to put some skin in the game – to actively safeguard the dignity and worth of people of color and all those that find themselves objects of intolerance.
In my role as President, I have requested a review of all policies and procedures to ensure alignment with our desire to sustain a safe and secure learning environment, in accordance with our Christ-Centered mission. Additionally, I have submitted a request to the faculty to consider implementing guidelines concerning the use of racially charged idioms, terms, and expressions that might implicitly and explicitly sabotage the fiber of our community.
In short, I will seek to respect the legacy of Dr. King – not just by remembering, not just by hoping, not just by idly watching the tides of history turn, but through intentional action seek to “turn the dark clouds of…prejudice” so that “in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation [and this great institution] with all their scintillating beauty.”[iii]
I close by articulating my great thanks to the students of Central Christian College of Kansas. In my time here, I have come to respect the kinship and amity you have had for one another. In contrast to the greater events in culture, you all have demonstrated tremendous goodwill and harmony. In many ways, you serve as examples of what our culture should seek to manifest. Thank you. Please continue to lead in this way, not letting anyone look down on your youth, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity, show yourself an example to us all.
The purpose of this epistle is primarily motivated by the disquiet of my own soul in the midst of our ongoing journey as a republic. The turbulent path we now travel is littered with the ruined remains of politics, protests, and an ongoing pandemic. It may seem that anxiety, fear, and worry have all but extinguished the inspiring light of hope, forcing some of us to question the custody of God, especially when those who are called to bear the light of Christ are the very ones quibbling in the darkness, feeding upon the shadows of iniquity.
In response, I would ask you that you remember God’s own words reminding us to be strong and courageous “for the LORD your God goes with you; God will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).
As Dr. King himself stated,
“[We] must keep faith in the future. Let us not despair. Let us realize that as we struggle for justice and freedom, we have cosmic companionship. This is the long faith of the Hebraic-Christian tradition: that God is not some Aristotelian Unmoved Mover who merely contemplates upon himself. He is not merely a self-knowing God, but an other-loving God forever working through history for the establishment of His kingdom.”[iv]
Let us feed on hope – God is at work!
Leonard F. Favara, Jr., Ph.D. (Rev.)
President, Central Christian College of Kansas
[i] Reagan, Ronald (1986). Proclamation 5431
[ii] King, Martin L. (1963). Eulogy for the Martyred Children. Birmingham, AL.
[iii] King, Martin L (1963). Letter from the Birmingham Jail.
[iv] King, Martin L (1957). Give Us the Ballot
ABOUT CENTRAL CHRISTIAN COLLEGE OF KANSAS
Central Christian College of Kansas is a four-year collegiate institution that strives to offer Christ-centered education for the whole person through four core characteristics: heart, soul, mind, and strength. Its history dates back to 1884, and it is located in the friendly town of McPherson, Kansas. Central is a strategically small college that offers over forty areas of residential study and a thriving online program for non-traditional students. To learn more about Central, go to centralchristian.edu/about. Visit the Foundation of Central Christian College to see what projects and events are coming up.