It is a joyous day for our country as we inaugurate President Obama for a second term in the midst of celebrating the legacy of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. The alignment of these events is a stunning testimony to a national journey toward equality--undertaken, but not complete.
Attending segregated schools in the 50's and 60's in Oklahoma hardly prepared me for the multicultural world that continues to emerge. Not only was the school system weighted against minorities, but more egregious was my church's overt discrimination. I remember the protracted and rancorous debate of the deacons over granting membership to a black woman.
The preaching tradition of that church accented God's desire to keep the races cleanly separated, which is why God "placed the ocean between Africa and America," as one preacher thundered. Never mind the reality that slave traders had traversed that ocean to dominate and destroy a rich culture through enslaving persons created in God's image. Slavery was normative in Scripture, I was taught, and surely segregation was the proper retaining of God's order for humanity.
The imbedded ides about race that stained demographic realities in earlier days in the US continue to bear unsavory fruit. The challenges for young black men are well-documented; presently more are in prison than are in college. Legal systems practice a hermeneutics of suspicion against minorities, and recidivism is rampant.
Central is glad to be regarded as a genuinely multicultural seminary. We have nearly an equal percentage of black and white students, and the number of Asian students is rapidly growing. Diversity in faculty and staff and leadership team has not kept pace, but that it is a worthy pursuit we keep tabs on. Yet, thinking about race--and especially its connection to poverty--must be more overt in our classes and ongoing conversation.
Yesterday I attended worship at Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church. I knew it would be an unusually celebrative Sunday, and I was not disappointed. As the elder Rev. Hartsfield preached, he reminded the congregation that "God is always coming." His long advocacy for racial justice has seen breakthroughs as God works with human prophets, but he knows the journey is ongoing. He called each of us to faithfulness in pursuing the peace offered by Jesus as we build authentic communities, which requires that they be inclusive.
I am grateful for this epoch in American history. I believe that renewed and constructive thinking about race will help realize the vision of equality in the founding documents of our nation.
Molly T. Marshall
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