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We've Come This Far By Faith

We've Come This Far By Faith

Commentary Inclusivity Missions and Outreach

Because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. --James 1:3

In his book Singing The Lord's Song In A Strange Land, Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery wrote: "We shall never turn back. We've come too far, marched too long, prayed too hard, wept too bitterly, bled too profusely, and died too young to let anybody turn back the clock.  We ain't going back; we're going forward."

This quote illuminates the terrain of the road and the blows in the fight for racial equality. It has not been easy. Many lives have been lost in the struggle for equality, and yet the struggle for racial equality continues.

Rev. Dr. Geraldine McClellan

Exceptional African American women and men have taken their places in this movement to transform the face of America. The fight goes on to promote equal rights for all people, affecting change that moves us closer to our American ideals of liberty.

Rev. Lowery is one of three spiritual giants we lost recently.

We also lost Congressman John Lewis and the Rev. C. T. Vivian, for whom activism was an extension of their faith.

They were exceptionally courageous and committed civil rights leaders who drew upon their faith as they fought for continued equality for African Americans by urging and marshaling in long-awaited change.

Blessed to have lived long full lives, they were anointed by God in the continued struggle for racial justice.

Congressman Lewis once reflected, "… the civil rights movement was a religious phenomenon. When we'd go out to sit in or go out to march, I felt, and I really believe, there was a force in front of us and a force behind us, 'cause sometimes you didn't know what to do.

"You didn't know what to say, you didn't know how you were going to make it through the day or through the night. But somehow and some way, you believed – you had faith – that it all was going to be all right."

Dr. Mary Mcleod Bethune said, "Faith is the first factor in a life devoted to service. Without it, nothing is possible. With it, nothing is impossible."

This belief in faith helped Rosa Parks take an action that was the catalyst of the civil rights movement. Fannie Lou Hammer was beaten unconscious but survived and later testified in front of Congress about voter disenfranchisement.

Ella Baker built an organizational infrastructure for the March on Washington. Olive Morris mentored young activists, Georgia Gilmore strategized, and Dovey Johnson Roundtree developed legal arguments.

These women and countless other unnamed women were grassroots organizers, educators, strategists, writers, marchers, and freedom fighters. They fought faithfully and passionately against the forces of racism.

They simultaneously battled sexism, another form of oppression.

Their resilience and effectiveness motivated by faith.

So, let us be ever faithful and mindful of the past.

The abolitionist movement of 1830, 190 years ago, was fueled by the righteous demand for the immediate and full emancipation of all slaves [human people] to abolish slavery.

But in 1870, the Jim Crow era legislated segregation and second-class citizenship for then-free African Americans. In 1955, African Americans began to speak out counter-culturally against discrimination in the form of persistent peaceful protest.

Rev. C. T. Vivian, who organized some of the civil rights movement's first sit-ins, never stopped speaking out for change. Jailed and beaten, he said: "Change must come, and nonviolent direct action is necessary to bring it about."

The peaceful protests were as unrelenting as the brutalization of those engaging in the 15 years of the civil rights movement. They cried out for basic human decencies, equality, safety, full rights, and citizenship that had been aggressively denied since the abolishment of slavery.

The fight for racial justice, equality, and equity continues decades later, against the backdrop of de facto segregation that still exists today.

Disproportionate police brutality continues against African American citizens. Such violence is legally defined as a civil rights violation where officers exercise undue or excessive force against a subject.

Under the banner of the Blacks Lives Matter Movement, we are again compelled to rise, raise our voices, leverage our privilege and influence.

We act to lift the staggering weight of oppression and to ensure the safety and well-being of African Americans against the violence of systemic racism and implicit biases that pervade so many systems and institutions, including our churches.

But throughout the racial injustices over 400 years, we were not alone!

Thanks be to God that the fight for freedom and social justice is diverse and inclusive of brothers and sisters of all faiths, races, and ethnicities that embraced the struggle.

Meaningful, vital resources and relationships were forged across many cross-cultural coalitions and partnerships. They worked in organizing the community, educational pursuits, and criminal justice reform. Many of them paid the ultimate sacrifice of losing their lives in the struggle.

But as the Black Methodists For Church Renewal say in their motto: "Our Time Under God is now!"

This is the second call, historically and presently, to the United Methodist Church to unite in the face of racial injustice, substantiating the word UNITED.

If we are to be the truly united church, let us show our commitment by being willing to engage in training and accountability while fervently and diligently embracing the work of the Bishop's task force on Anti-Racism.
And as the lyrics in the song Lift Every Voice And Sing say: "Let us march on til victory is won!"

--The Rev. Dr. Geraldine McClellan retired in 2018 after more than four decades in ministry. She was the first ordained Black woman and the first Black female District Superintendent in the Florida Conference.

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