Hope’s Hard Work


Hopefully, the enthusiasm of this new reality will continue as the hard work of true change begins.

We all took a step forward Tuesday as our 44th president was sworn into office. With nearly 2 million Americans huddled against the cutting cold, it was an amazing demonstration in support of the power of our democracy.

For many Americans, it was a moment many thought was still over the horizon and beyond imagination. Was it real? Will hope be reignited? Will we move forward and out of the morass of partisan politics, cynicism and despair? President Obama clearly believes we will, but not without a unification of the American people.

NPR interviewed a host of people on inauguration day. One woman said, “I’m proud to be an American today, not just an African-American, but proud to be an American.” Another added, “For the first time, I feel like an American.” That kind of generous inclusive spirit has been missing from our world as the price paid for putting racism and nationalism before our God-given humanity.

But black Americans are not the only ones who have suffered from oppression; all of us have paid a dear price for the ignorance and arrogance of racial segregation. All Americans have foundered under the burden of guilt and shame of 400 years of the evil of slavery and the denial of equal rights.

When former President Jimmy Carter spoke to a college crowd last fall, he asked whether they were familiar with the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. One bright young student raised his hand and quickly answered, “It gave women the right to vote!” Carter smiled and answered kindly, “You are only partially right. The 19th Amendment only gave white women the right to vote.”

I recall hearing Baptist preacher Will Campbell describe how he had alienated himself from white Southern Baptists by working to change the country’s discriminatory views of segregation during the civil rights movement, something the white church of the South resisted as strongly as any social institution.

But Campbell understood rightly that racism is a sword that cuts in both directions. So he made a trip to the prison where a white prisoner was held who had been the leader of the Ku Klux Klan. Campbell paid a pastoral visit to this man and shared communion with him in the process. He broke the bread of Christ’s body and shared the cup of Christ’s blood with this man who had stoked the fires of hatred, fires that mercilessly tortured and killed the sons and daughters of slavery in order to intimidate them and keep them oppressed under white rule.

While he had crossed the color lines in order to work for justice and mercy on behalf of oppressed African Americans, he then took criticism from the liberal leftists who could not fathom how Campbell could minister to this son of Adam who had perpetuated oppression. In Campbell’s way of seeing clearly, both the oppressor and the oppressed had been injured by racism.

The election of Barack Obama to the office of the president won’t end racism, for racism is still very much with us. It’s felt every time we look upon any other person different from us and think subconsciously, “I am better than them and they are less than me.” The isms of race, economics, education, sexual orientation and religion have always been with us.

The walls of the gulag of Guantánamo containing those who serve a never-ending sentence for crimes not identified or tried will come down, as they should. The strategy of wars being waged on two fronts will likely change, and we will fight terrorism with different tactics by relying less upon military power alone. The economy that has suffered at the hands of greedy corporate con men will need attention and the American citizenry will need to consider ways in which we must share the burden of moving in a new direction.

All of those things were implied in Obama’s inaugural speech on Tuesday. Together we have crossed over into a new way of existing, with the break point of change having been initiated.

Hopefully, the enthusiasm of this new reality will continue as the hard work of true change begins.

Keith D. Herron is senior pastor of Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo.

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Tags: Barack Obama, Keith Herron, Presidency, Race, Racism