On June 12, 1963, a bullet from an M1917 Enfield rifle ripped through the heart of a young, civil rights activist named Medgar Evers. At the moment Evers was shot, he was unloading a box of t-shirts from his car. The shirts read, Jim Crow Must Go.
After the bullet entered his back, Evers was rushed to a local Jackson, MS hospital. He was denied admittance because of his color. Only after learning who he was did the hospital relent and offer care. Fifty-minutes after he was shot, Medgar Evers died.
Medgar Evers was murdered in his driveway.
My father knew that driveway.
My father was Medgar Evers’ paperboy.
Dr. Richard Palmer, Sr. – my dad – was finishing the seventh grade when Evers was shot in the back by Ku Klux Klan member, Byron De La Beckwith. Every day after school, Dad would load up his books, walk a mile in the opposite direction of his own house because, “The Evers lived over there in Shady Acres, where the middle-class blacks lived,” and worked his daily paper route.
One day my dad threw the Evers’ paper and all was normal, the next day there was burned wood and singed bricks – the aftermath of a Molotov cocktail. A month later he threw his paper into the Evers’ yard and the next day, Medgar Evers was dead.
Like millions of Americans, my wife and I saw ‘Selma’ this past weekend, prompting me to call my dad (who lived in the south and experienced the dehumanizing effects of southern segregation) to hear again that the women and men who fought for freedom and equality in the 50’s and 60’s weren’t characters in some Shakesparian drama. These woman and men were real flesh and bone people, with houses and jobs and stresses, and, yes, paperboys. But they believed, as Martin Luther King Jr., articulated, that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
But unlike so many Christians today, they were willing to bleed for justice.
At the movie theatre this weekend, I wasn’t only watching ‘Selma.’ I was watching others watch ‘Selma’ and the truth was revealing. At every blow of the baton to a Selma marcher’s head, as women were being trampled by armed policemen on horseback and a young, unarmed African-American man shot and killed by the police, across the theatre, heads bowed and eyes darted.
No one wanted to look. No one wanted to see.
Averting our eyes is a natural response, I suppose. Violence is a vile and disgusting business. Perhaps the only thing more disdainful than violence in general is violence visited on the non-violent at the hands of the gleefully violent. Bloodlust is thoroughly unattractive; yet we fail our communities and our world when we cover our eyes or look away from the injuries inflicted to fellow women and men. Averting our eyes was simply not an option for my father. It shouldn’t be an option for us!
Many of us live lives disconnected from anything we don’t want to see. We can close our ears to news we don’t want to hear. This was not an option for my father an his generation.
My hope is that Christian community can awake from it’s modern-day parochial concerns, her mega-personalities, large screen and plush chair venues, her lust for political access, and her wholesale adoption of the American dream to see and relieve the injustices and oppressions laid before her. It is time to join the bleeding.
And it should start, as it did in the days of Evers and King, with the church.
Now is the time for the church (Christians) to reject and renounce the false “news” empires hellbent on division and frustration while offering no solutions. Now is the time to refuse the faulty church-growth ideology which reaches for easy growth spawned of homogeneity over the discipling discomfort of reconciliation. Now is the time to spurn the sadistic language of “us vs. them; gay vs. straight; in vs out; blue vs red” and trust that Paul was right when he called us to “no longer see anyone from a worldly point of view.”
Now is the time to be just as concerned about the slaughter of 2,000 women and children in a distant village in Nigeria as we are about the 17 killed in the destination spot of Paris. Now is the time to lovingly call our Christian brothers and sisters who’ve unwittingly reduced the Bible to the paper thin idolatries of “family values” and “single-issue voting,” in order to serve a political agenda, to re-imagine the real nature of God’s kingdom. Now is the time to end the pointless creation vs evolution debates and remind ourselves that the focus of Genesis is that human beings are created in the image of God.
It’s time to quit averting our eyes. The arc of justice can either bend through us or around us (Tweet That).
When I was a boy, my dad would sit with my brother and me and tell us stories about life growing up in the segregated South. He taught us about Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, and the countless others who were willing to bleed to honor the image of God in others. I learned through the Civil Rights Movement, the same thing I learned through the life of Jesus: If you’re going to transform hearts, you better be willing to bleed.