The last few days, a group of scholars gathered to discuss what it means to be human.
We met in the Deep South, in Birmingham, Alabama. We met just walking distance from site of the old Birmingham Jail. This jail had a cell, in which MLK was jailed for inciting conflict in 1963.
White-moderate Christians in Birmingham agreed with his cause, but urged patience. They saw protest as the opposite of peace. So, from his cell, he penned a letter to them. The conflict of protest, MLK explained, is often the path peace.
Almost 60 years later, we did not integrate. Our conference last week had eight plenary talks, each with a respondent. Birmingham is 70% black. All of the speakers, except for myself and one respondent, however, was white.
Only one speaker engaged the questions of race. We heard from a leading expert on the Image of God. But he did not mention MLK’s theology of the Image of God.
At the final session, I called this out, “This is broken. There must be a better way.” How did they respond? The response was honest recognition. We need to find a better way.
We broke bread together. A pastor thanked me and shared some stories. In 1994 (when I was in 10th grade), he was fired from a pastorate for inviting and including black children to a youth retreat with white children.
Today, we are publishing today an article from Paul Louis Metzger, a theologian who saw the ethical argument for virtues most clearly in my book. His response takes us back to MLK’s ethic of protest.
Pursuit of virtue sometimes demands protest. Protest creates conflict. This conflict is often the only path to greater peace.
Come remember MLK with us.
Please consider this important clarification:
The organizers of the event did intend and hope for a more diverse slate of speakers. Recruiting non-white speakers is difficult. The absence of non-white speakers is a problem downstream of larger societal problems, and this absence did not reflect the best hopes of the organizers. Indeed, similar observations of a gap in diverse voices are observable in just about all scientific and science/religion meetings.
The conference itself was very high quality, bringing together scholars to engage the public in a way that was elucidating and educational. The weekend was personally impactful to me, and I am grateful to the attendees for their willingness and openness to dialogue. In many ways, they are a positive example for those of us who are genuinely trying to move forward and do better.
We recognize that conversation about race is difficult and sensitive, but we also believe that these conversations are worth pursuing together.
Thanks to each of you for pursuing dialogue, as we look for a better way forward together.
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