The recent release of the film Selma brought forth a flood of memories long dormant in me, of just how explosive the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s truly was; a movement that transformed a culture and demanded to be heard. From the opening line I was drawn into the pages of history as the horrific realities of the sinfulness of man unfolded before my eyes. Evil slithered into Selma, causing brother to be pitted against brother, replaying Cain’s violent encounter with Abel just outside of Eden.
Good entertainment? Yes. Powerful message, of course, but Selma was so much more. Emotionally stirring? Check, Inspirational? Check, Motivational? Check and double check! At a point, I wanted to get up and march along with Dr. King, right then and there. Movie goers are afforded a rare, intimate, genuine and entirely human glimpse behind the curtain that is Dr. Martin Luther King and the struggle that he and others endured to bring about equality, as it rolled out, in the land of the free.
Dr. King moved people, he was powerful of speech, eloquent, persuasive, passionate, driven, singularly focused and yet very human and real. We see him as a man, like any other man with weaknesses, detractors and self-doubts, as he wrestles with insecurity and concern as to whether the cause he is heralding is making a difference. These thoughts threaten to side track him and move him off course, but to his credit Dr. King persevered and gained support from Americans of all shades, as injustice was laid bare in living rooms from coast to coast. Images that reshaped the civil rights movement permanently, were broadcast live; images, that could not be simply brushed aside, images that gruesomely and painfully exposed with humiliation, the inhumane treatment imposed on the defenseless, by the authorities in seats of power.
Selma was, prior to 1965, just a town on a map easily overlooked, but it was poised to launch a movement through which God himself, set into motion events which ushered in a time of lasting change. The fingerprints of God are evident on Selma, as a nation witnessed good overcoming evil, as it saw the weak overcame the powerful and as justice prevailed over injustice, by not accepting the invitation to fight back when wrongfully attacked. Dr. King stressed time and again to his warriors, non-violence no matter the cost, was the game plan. He knew that, might does not make right and only truth can truly set a man free, even if justice is denied by the majority.
Dr. King most certainly knew that Branch Rickey, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers once counseled a young black man named Jackie Robinson, as he was preparing to break the color barrier in major league baseball, “Your enemy will be out in force. But you cannot meet him on his own low ground.” To which Jackie asked the obvious question, “You want a player who doesn't have the guts to fight back? But Mr. Rickey offered Jackie wisdom borrowed from his Christian faith and replied, “No. I want a player who's got the guts not to fight back.” These are not “natural” responses in the face of extraordinary circumstances; no, they are supernatural responses grounded in a faith that only God himself can provide. The Bible warns us that there is a process in place to resolve injustice, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.”
Dr. King’s courage and non-violent approach elevated his cause above the usual political trappings of today’s civil rights movement. When politics drives causes, everyone sees, except the politician and their followers, that injustice is not addressed, but rather a political agenda is being advanced, for which there is always a compelling counter position to be argued. Dr. King was not interested in arguing; he knew what today’s political activists fail to grasp, namely that justice is self-authenticating. When injustice is scrutinized under bright lights, as the Selma marches revealed fifty some years ago, America is not divided 49% for and 51% against, along party lines; no, real injustice is always soundly defeated.
This movie exposed the contrasting styles between a civil rights movement courageously advanced upon the principles of God, richly rewarded and blessed; undoing centuries of oppression in a matter of a few years, as compared to today’s politically minded civil rights leaders that breath fire and volatility over combustible crowds, deceived into believing that the propane tanks of hatred they carry, are instruments of peace.
God will not be mocked; progress has been made in the arena of civil rights and yet there is more work to be done. Ferguson Missouri, Trayvon Martin and so many other names have become rallying cries for slithering civil rights leaders and false prophets, used to stoke the fires of rage and discord into flames of political unrest and death, just like Cain before them. I long to see leaders emerge that embrace the spirit of Selma and douse the flames of injustice by instructing their followers in the non-violent approach of Dr. Martin Luther King and Jesus before them. Leaders who are courageous, driven, passionate and singularly focused on overcoming injustice with justice; who can help a nation heal and be unified around a cause, rather than, divided by it. Racism is a terrible thing which no man should have to endure, but it is rooted in sin and cannot be defeated with political wrangling, it is however a cause, worthy of our collective attention and one that can be solved, but only through the love of Christ expressed one person to another.
Stephen C. Weaver Esq. is an attorney and President of the No Walls Ministry, Inc. located in Lynchburg Virginia, whose mission is to help churches work cross culturally and cross denominationally to address the needs of the local community. He has been teaching, speaking, writing and engaging in inner city ministries for over twenty years with his particular interest and passion being in the area of race relations.