Clarence’s Clarion Call – I Have A Dream

     by Clarence Rempel, WDC Conference Minister

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I read Time magazine’s 50th anniversary issue of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech from cover to cover. I read trying to recover a lost memory that isn’t there. Growing up in rural Nebraska, a white Mennonite community, I was clueless about the ongoing suffering of our black brothers and sisters. I could not imagine the discrimination of segregation or the oppression of Jim Crow or the terror of the Klan. I did not know. The Mennonite became my initial window to the unfolding civil rights movement and the backlash of intimidation and violence it brought to light.

I confess with shame that the church in many places justified slavery, justified segregation, and justified a second class status to African Americans. I am forever grateful for the prophetic leadership of the black church in confronting racism, confronting bigotry, and confronting the evil of oppression with the truth-telling, non-violence of Jesus. It was African American Christians who led us out of the darkness of hatred and oppression towards a kingdom vision of valuing every person as created equal in the image of God.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream….right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

King invoked the prophetic future tense to call our nation to a new understanding of equality and freedom for all.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and every mountain shall be made low. The rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. 

I am thankful that we aren’t where we were 50 years ago. There are now five black college graduates for every one in 1963. The percentage of African Americans living in poverty has fallen 23 points. On the other hand black American unemployment is unchanged in 50 years. It is still twice as high as the rest of the population. The subtle tentacles of personal and systemic racism still infect our relationships and institutions.

But God be praised, we aren’t what we were, and we are not yet what we will be. “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:15-16).

(Statistical information from Time, August 26/September 2, 2013.)