At the end of the Civil War, there was a hope that finally the words of the Declaration of Independence would ring true across a nation that was struggling to repair the deep fracture that had occurred when brother turned against brother. The founding fathers had declared: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”. As we now know, that was not going to be the case.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to live outside your culture. And, in the South the culture was not as willing to allow all men and women to be treated as equals. That’s why following reconstruction, the people in the South were quick to implement what would come to be known as Jim Crow Laws and continue the sinful practice of segregation. Under these laws, the southern governments claimed that services, housing, education, and transportation should be segregated because these services would be separate but equal. But, in 1954, the Supreme Court finally ruled that while these services were separate, they definitely weren’t equal. And, yet, even in the face of the Supreme Courts decision, Jim Crow laws still existed and were enforced in the South.
A full year after the Supreme Court’s decision, the buses in Montgomery, Alabama were still segregated with a section in the front reserved for white citizens, while the seats in the back of the bus were reserved for black citizens. That’s why the the events that unfolded on December 1 served as a beacon that would change our world for the better. At 6 pm Mrs. Rosa Parks got on the bus after leaving her job as a seamstress at a department store. She paid her fare and took a seat in the colored section and was seated there when a white man boarded the bus who was forced to stand since all the seats in the designated white section were taken. The bus driver told the four riders in the first row of the colored section to stand. Three of the riders got up and moved farther back. But, on this afternoon, Mrs. Parks simply slid towards the window, refusing to give up her seat. After being warned by the bus driver and still refusing to give up her seat, the driver called the police who came and arrested her.
Later, when describing the events of that December evening, Mrs. Parks would say that when she had made up her mind to do what was right, there was no fear in doing what needed to be done. Her strength would come from the Lord to take a stand, or keep her seat, as long as she was doing what was right. In her example of strength, we learn that if we will just settle in our minds what is right, we will be able to find the courage in our hearts. Yet, still the struggle continues because we have not settled in our minds what is truly right.
Whether we are willing to admit it or not, we are all products of our culture. The plight of the African American, as well as the plight of the Mexican American and Asian American, is a result of a culture that not only tolerated that type of behavior, but at times encouraged the mistreatment. As we continue to examine our history, we are faced with more and more examples of men and women who participated or silently stood by and accepted a culture that devalued people created in the image of God, based on the color of their skin or their gender. While we admire the courage of women like Rosa Parks, the truth is that there are far more of us who resemble the three riders who simply got up and changed seats because that’s what our culture would have us to do.
Paul urges us in Romans 12:2, Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. As the body of Christ, we are called to be a light; to stand against the hatred and evil that seems to persist in our culture and to lead with love. If you really trust that God desires for you to be a part of His Kingdom, that means you will trust in His strength and in His power to do the difficult work of changing your culture, starting in your own little corner of the world. Who knows, maybe Mrs. Parks had been reading the book of Romans when she said settle in your mind what is right and you will be able to find courage in your heart. Maybe it’s time we stopped looking at all the evil that persists in our communities, and settle in our minds what is right and allow God to place the courage in our hearts to make a change. It’s time for our churches, and for all Christians, to take the lead in making our culture reflect the character of God. It will not be easy, but you were created and empowered to do difficult things. It’s time for those who have been saved by the love of Christ, to once again lead with a bold love.