Absence: a form of oppression
August 2, 2008, 1:31 pm
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My recent trip to Birmingham, AL, has brought me to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. If you get a chance to visit, do it. It’s worth it. The Institute brought the harsh realities of segregation between blacks and whites in the American South.

As I walked the Institute, I saw images of blacks being hosed with high-powered fire hoses. I saw pictures of police letting loose dogs to attack demonstrators. I saw white people standing around two black teenagers hanging lynched in the trees, watching and smiling as if they were watching fireworks on the 4th of July. I saw images of the KKK, whites beating blacks, bombing their churches, and I thought, “Where were the ‘good’ people?”

(side-note: I know not every black person was innocent and white guilty. I know whites marched with Dr. King. That’s not the point. Just follow me here…)

Where were all the good people who thought segregation was evil? Where were they when black teenagers were being lynched for talking to white women? Where were they when the police of Alabama hosed down demonstrators and attacked them with dogs? Where were they when the Freedom Riders were being beaten to a pulp? Why didn’t the stop the oppression? Then it occurred to me – where am I when oppression happens around me?

I think of what a man in the Bible named James says that when you know that you should do something good and don’t do it, it’s wrong! Jesus also says that we must help the “least of these,” the down-trodden, the helpless (cf. Matthew 25:31ff).

Absence is a form of oppression. When I watch oppression happen and don’t do anything about it…that’s oppression in itself! When I watch the poor get poorer and the rich get richer and don’t say anything against it..I am the oppressor! When I consume more and more taking from others…I am the oppressor! You may not stop Darfur, third world debt, racism, war, or poverty; but you can start by sticking up for someone, or getting coffee with a hurt person, or buying a meal for a homeless man.

If we understand that we are all connected and Jesus calls us to love others as we love ourselves, we will realize —
Absence is oppression.




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This very thing has plagued my heart so many times. I have always been so dismayed by our “Christian” nation that did not look like Christ in this era.

My wife and I visited the Martin Luther King Jr. Museum when we were down in Atlanta, and we toured through and saw his boyhood home, church where he preached, and his grave.
The museum had the same pictures you are talking about, and there are few things I have seen that have caused more shame for my country, compassion for black people whose parents/grandparents went through it, and anger towards whites who persecuted the least of these on Saturday and then walked into church the next day with their big Bibles.??

Anyway, good to see someone struggling w/ the same things I have. It would be a lot easier for us as white people to pretend this never happened, or it was a long time ago and we should just forget about it, but how can we?

Every once in a while we need a little sober reminder of man’s depravity to keep us humble and trusting in the grace of God.

Comment by Mark Culton

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