Once Upon A Time

9 04 2016


Once upon a time in Louisiana, in the  last decade the 19th century,  Homer Plessey was arrested and convicted of  sitting in a ‘whites only’ railway car for which bought a first class ticket. Mr. Plessey’s lineage was 7/8 white and 1/8 black. From all appearances he was white. AKA, he could pass.

The case went to the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court.  The court ruled that he had violated  a just law. Justice Henry Brown wrote, ”  If one race be the inferior to the other socially, the constitution can not put them on the same plane.”  Separate but equal railway cars was the law. More similar laws were coming down the track.

Once upon a time in 1954 another Supreme Court case was heard, Brown vs The Board of Education. This time it ruled that separate but equal  violated  the US Constitution.

Once upon a time George Wallace said in this inauguration speech when being sworn in as the Governor of Alabama, ” Segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.” In June of 1963 he stood in a doorway to block  the University of Alabama’s racial integration.

Once upon a time  in 1965 a small Christian church in North Carolina called a special business meeting to develop a strategy because  of   the certain fear that black worshippers would try to ‘interrupt’ a worship service by joining in. Never happened.

The assumption was the same as Justice Henry Brown. The non-whites were inferior and needed to worship separately.  No doubt,  Wallace was quoted and the ‘curse of Ham’ was given as a proof text. After all, the Olan Mills picture of Jesus was an Anglo with beautifully cascading brown locks.

Now we have moved from the socially inferior option of Justice Brown to the  determination of a persons worth in the eyes of the Supreme Being. After all, heaven must be separate but equal, right!

I was in that business meeting. I knew those folks. They were my elders. I was just a kid and knew my place; you know – seen but not heard. But I knew better.

Once upon a recent time in my native North Carolina,  General Assembly passed HB 2 and that  has brought national attention to our state. I am not sure of all the excuses given for the need for such an 11th hour legislation, nor to I buy all of them. ( My father said, ” An excuse is a lie wrapped up in the skin of a reason.”)

Supporters tout it  as insuring the safety of women and children. Who would not want such?  But the other implications  seem to  harken back to a day when determinations about one’s sacred and legal worth was legislated in such a way as to divide, separate or any other exclusionary word you prefer. Conclusion, some are less than others.

Some may  applaud the legislature’s decision rather than decry it.  As one person stated, ” It is not a problem here.”  That is a if not the problem; thinking it is not a problem.

Martin Luther King Jr. said,  “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere….Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

My comments here will surely receive mixed reviews. So, why do it?

Because once upon a time I was in a church meeting  and I did not say anything. Granted, I was young and timid but I knew better, soul deep.

It was in that same church that I heard that Jesus loved me just as I was, without one plea. In was in that place that I learned that God’s love in Jesus was and is offered to all, equally and unconditionally.  In that church’s  Bible I read of  this Jesus accepting the unclean as identified by the prevailing laws of church and society. And that may have been the death of him.

I heard that Jesus did not come to bring condemnation to any but love for all. A love to die for.

I could hide behind “this is just my opinion” and take off my clerical garb. I could hedge my bets and speak to some business or political rationale for accepting my position for criticizing these elected legislators. Can’t.

I am  a United Methodist. We are conflicted on issues involving sexuality.  Many members of this global church do not agree on how to best be faithful in this part of out corporate and personal life.  Many persons of faith wrestle with these and other issues on which the disagree.

I am hopeful we are not conflicted in believing that all persons are equal under the law of government and grace. Our Discipline seems clear on that. I think Jesus was, too.

I also speak as one who believes that this Country really might be founded on the preamble and premise  that all are created equal and have the same God-given inalienable rights.

I speak up because I believe that when we  single out one person or group  as an “inferior class” it appeals  to a baser side of us . We are  better than that. We can do better.

When we succumb to that temptation ,  haven’t we forgotten that  in the Divine paradoxical enigma called grace we are on the same ground,  not separate but equal,  both guilty and pardoned?

Once upon a time, I remained silent. I thought it should only be once.  But not this time.