This week in 1885, a long-awaited statue arrived in the USA. It was to become one of the best-known statues in the world, espousing one of America’s most cherished values. It was, of course, the Statue of Liberty.
This week in 1964, that promise of liberty became a reality for all of America’s citizens. For on that day the US Senate approved the Civil Rights Act, marking the end of legalised racial discrimination.
The law hadn’t changed by itself, of course. It didn’t shift as part of a natural progression from wrong to right, an evolution of the nation’s morality. Martin Luther King, writing an open letter from his prison cell in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, argued against ‘the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills’. Time, he said, ‘can be used either destructively or constructively’, and progress ‘comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God’.
The myth of human progress hasn’t diminished in the past five decades. In fact, it has arguably become a core belief of our culture, forming the bedrock of a new myth: that if laws and attitudes are changing they must necessarily beprogressing. Certainly agitators for issues such as same-sex marriage, the legalisation of euthanasia, and the liberalisation of abortion laws would hold this to be self-evident. Those who oppose these developments are often said to be ‘holding back progress’, seeking to ‘turn back time’, advocating ‘a return to the Dark Ages’ before we were ‘enlightened’.
Yet it is Christ who sheds true light into the world. There is no single defining issue facing us today; there are dozens of them. Inequalities still abound, injustice is still rife, immorality still runs rampant, and the need for men and women willing to work tirelessly with God to see his kingdom come on earth is still great.
Whether you are called as God’s co-worker through obvious ‘activism’ or to a more subtle witness in your home, neighbourhood or workplace, do it with all your heart.
We are the light of the world; may the church not be, in King’s words again, ‘adjusted to the status quo, standing as a taillight behind other community agencies’, but rather ‘a headlight leading [people] to higher levels of justice’. Or perhaps a beacon raised high, guiding them to true liberty.
Picture Credit: ‘Light Lines’ by Nathan Harper (Creative Commons)