Thursday, January 12, 2006

Eric Graben: God uses ordinary sinful men, such as King, to do great things

Below is an editorial written by a friend and originally published in The Greenville News that is a powerful, personal tribute to his dad and Dr. King

By Eric K. Graben

My father went to Birmingham-Southern College in the early 1950s. He was poor, so he rode the bus a lot. Back then, the buses were segregated. The bus company would place a bar across the back of the seats part way back, and the black folks had to sit behind the bar.

Dad told me that sometimes when an elderly black lady carrying a bag of groceries was walking back to the black seats, some bus drivers would take off with a lurch to try to make her spill her groceries. Sometimes the back of the bus filled up, and my dad would get up and move the bar forward a few seats so all the black folks would have a place to sit. Since my dad was white, the bus drivers would only glare at him. Rosa Parks hadn't yet refused to give up her seat to a white man, so the black folks didn't dare move the bar themselves.

Dad didn't think he was making a statement. He wasn't questioning segregation. Segregation was just the way things were -- it didn't occur to him to challenge it. He thought moving the bar so other people, black or white, could have a seat was just the decent thing to do. He couldn't understand why a bus driver would want to make an old lady spill her groceries just because she was black. Hang on to this thought while I talk about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. for a little bit.

Some folks wanted to use any means necessary to get the nation that proclaimed that "all men are created equal" to really mean it -- instead of meaning that "all (white) men are created equal." Since white people in America outnumbered black people nine or ten to one at that time, this probably would have resulted in a blood bath of mostly black blood.

So instead the Rev. King fought hatred and bigotry by following Christ. He faced both brutal cruelty and systemic racism with only courage and love. He looked his opponents in the eyes and refused to yield, but he also refused to fight back. I think the reason it worked, is that most white people are like my dad.

When folks like my dad saw the black Rev. King acting like Christ and his white opponents acting like the members of the corrupt theocracy that brutally murdered Christ, it became abundantly clear that black people were not inferior and segregation was wrong. And an overwhelmingly white judiciary, legislature and electorate chose to end legal segregation. Most recently, white Republican businessmen led the final charge to get us a Martin Luther King holiday in Greenville County.

I understand that some folks are reluctant to acknowledge that King was a political saint because in his personal life, he was a sinner. Scholarly biographers, both black and white, have documented that King was unfaithful to his wife and committed plagiarism. These sins are real. They are unfortunate. They detract from King's greatness. But he is still one of the greatest political heroes in American history.

David -- the one in the Bible who slew Goliath -- committed adultery with a woman named Bathsheba and had her husband, Uriah the Hittite, murdered when he couldn't cover up the affair. (Take a look at II Samuel 11 and 12.) Yet every church and every Christian I know of still teaches their children that David is a biblical hero. And God did not remove David from power as king of Israel nor did he revoke his promise that David would have a descendant to sit on his throne forever. (II Samuel 7: 12-16.)

George Washington is one of my other favorite political heroes. He could perhaps have been like Napoleon and been America's first emperor but instead he chose to be a two-term president. He also owned slaves. He knew it was wrong, and agonized over it, but only set them free in his will when he was dead and didn't need them anymore. He still ranks up there with Winston Churchill.

No one is without sin except Christ, and until the Second Coming, we're going to have to tolerate imperfections, often serious ones, in our heroes. One of the messages of the Bible, demonstrated over and over again, is that ordinary sinful men and women can rise above their imperfections and do great things when they follow Christ -- like King did.

Lord Jesus Christ, thank you for your servant, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The rest of y'all -- have a happy MLK Day.

1 comment:

Frank Braddock said...

This is a very interesting and thoughtful post. It seems that we expect our leaders to be without imperfection, but Graben correctly points out only One has been in the past.