Saturday, September 12, 2009

Truth and reconciliation

Lately I've been rereading several sections of "A Testament of Hope," a collection of writings and speeches of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who as most of you know has been a major influence on my Christian life. And in the process, I was reminded of an important truth: There can be no reconciliation without truth.

During his day, King was often accused of divisiveness and creating problems that didn't exist -- comments like "Our Negroes were happy until those outsiders came in and started causing trouble!" Unfortunately for them, King's critics were so shut off from reality that they didn't realize that the unjust system that they were defending with their lives actually caused resentment towards them.

Any serious Christian should understand this. After all, before you can reconcile with God through Jesus Christ you have to recognize that you have made shipwreck of your life -- which can be can be hard to admit when you see things as going well. Consider your first reaction when you're confronted with your sin -- you probably defended yourself because, frankly, the idea that you were wrong is unpalatable.

One of the first worship songs I learned on the Georgia Tech campus 30 years ago was "Come, Let Us Reason Together," based on Isaiah 1:18. However, consider what he wrote before that:

10 Hear the word of the LORD,
you rulers of Sodom;
listen to the law of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!
11 "The multitude of your sacrifices —
what are they to me?" says the LORD.
"I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your evil assemblies.
14 Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts
my soul hates.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even if you offer many prayers,
I will not listen.
Your hands are full of blood;
16 wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds
out of my sight!
Stop doing wrong,
17 learn to do right!
Seek justice,
encourage the oppressed.
Defend the cause of the fatherless,
plead the case of the widow.
Now, is God being "divisive?" No, He's telling it like it is -- at the risk of offending his audience. And sometimes confrontation is necessary in the process.

Some years ago I made the following analogy to a friend of Armenian heritage. Now, the Armenian people have historically had issues with the Turks, and let's say that the Turks came to the Armenians and said, "We wish to reconcile with you, but we don't want to admit to anything we did wrong, nor will we change our attitudes about you." Ridiculous, right? Yet that's just what some people are proposing because admitting that they were at fault causes them discomfort.

One of the demonstrators protesting the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Ark. in 1957 admitted a few years ago on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" to the black students who were trying to enter the school, "We were ignorant." A woman demonstrator said tearfully that she later taught her own children to act differently. Wonderful moments, to be sure -- but which could never happened without confrontation.

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