This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Powell: Drum majors for justice

During the height of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. addressed an audience at the National Cathedral in Washington. He alluded to Washington Irving’s story of Rip Van Winkle.

John Powell

Rip went into the mountains and slept for 20 years. As he ascended the mountain, he saw a sign with a picture of King George III. When Rip came down he saw a picture of George Washington. He was astonished. A revolution had happened, and he had missed it! Things had changed, and he was confused and completely lost.

Recounting that story, King said, “One of the great liabilities of life is that all too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses, that the new situation demands. They end up sleeping through a revolution.”

Many of us woke up on the day after the presidential election either ecstatic or saddened because our candidate had won or lost. Moving forward, people will go on with life as usual. Some will ask, “What’s next? What have we done?” The fact is that our communities are now divided more than ever. There’s anger, pain and alienation.

Here are just a few of the headlines that report on the state of our communities during this year:

  • March 14: U.S. to step up arrests, deportation of undocumented immigrants.
  • March 15.: Violence continues at Donald Trump’s rallies.
  • Sept. 20: Protest erupts in Charlotte after police officer kills black man.
  • Oct. 24: Waterford, Mich., board votes to exclude Syrian refugees.
  • Nov. 9: Donald Trump wins presidency.

Our communities have changed. It is possible to feel surrounded by foreign customs and strange people. The soil under our feet is shaking with unrest. We have been awakened from our sleep by a knock on our door from justice-seekers saying, “It’s justice time. It’s time for you to get to know me. I’m your neighbor. I belong. It’s time to accept the community of diversity that this nation is becoming.”

This is the state we find ourselves in today. We are left with a mess that will take years to clean up. The monster of hatred, violence and exclusion is deeply planted in the soul of our nation. We thought we knew each other. Divisive events have shown that we have only pretended to get along. The evil in our society came for our souls and stole many.

Who among us will dive into the mess and begin the cleanup? Who is ready to begin the healing process that our communities sorely need?

It’s time for the religious centrist to step forward and take the lead. We have witnessed the actions of the religious right. They have been recruited into the “God and country” alliance. Can we count on them? Maybe, but I doubt it. It’s left up to people of faith who believe that our Creator intends for humanity to live as just and reconciled people.

King called justice advocates drum majors. The drum major leads the marching band. He or she carries out the instructions of the band director. A drum major for justice carries out the mandate of our Creator and sets the standard for justice in our midst. This is the role we must take if relationships are to be restored.

If you are inclined to be a drum major for a reconciled community, be one for justice and righteousness. When you do, don’t fret or worry. God will show you what to do.

John Powell, of Ypsilanti, Mich., is a regional pastor for Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference.

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