Tag Archives: will d. campbell

Unarmed Truth & Unconditional Love

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Ralph Abernathy and Will Campbell grieve the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Lorraine Motel (April 1968)

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I was deep in the heart of rural Texas when the chaos in Charlottesville unfolded last weekend and found myself in a conversation with a couple of local police officers about other matters. I mentioned that they should visit us in California sometime and one offered a kind smile and said, “Nah, Californians don’t like Southern Republicans.” We laughed, but there is some measure of truth to his statement. And vice-versa, of course. There is plenty of not liking to go around these days.

I am a Christian, which unfortunately means many things to many people, but for me it means that I must love everyone. No exceptions. So I stand in opposition to hate in any form, which most assuredly includes all versions of white supremacy. And because I must love everyone then I am necessarily opposed to acts of violence. It is a package deal. Violence toward a loved one is unfathomable, so when you choose to love everyone it kind of takes the wind out of Violence’s sails.

“‘Don’t the Bible say we must love everybody?’ / ‘O, the Bible! To be sure, it says a great many such things; but, then, nobody ever thinks of doing them . . .'” – In Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Will D. Campbell is a personal hero of mine who was an important leader in the Civil Rights Movement and a fierce advocate for the victims of deep racism. However, Campbell started to notice that many of his fellow activists used the same dehumanizing language  and tone toward the “segregationists” that segregationists used toward African-Americans. Since Campbell was a Christian, he took a stand against that, too.

“With the same love that is commanded to shower upon the innocent victim of his frustration and hostility, the church must love the racist. Moreover, the church is called to love those who use and exploit both the racists and their victims for personal wealth and political gain. The church must stand in love and judgment upon the victim, the victimized, and those, both black and white, who exploit both, for they are all the children of God.” – Will D. Campbell, in Race and Renewal of the Church (1962)

Some things in this country have improved in the half century since the milestone moments of the Civil Rights Movement while many others have quite obviously not. And the version of Christianity touted by “Brother Will” and Dr. King often appears unopened in the shrink-wrapped box.

But I remain hopeful. For I, too, believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will someday have the final word.

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Hope for the World

As Valentine’s Day bled into Presidents’ Day, I decided to give up any love of politics for Lent. This may be the perfect year for such a sacrifice.

The tragic loss of Justice Scalia over the weekend was quickly followed by the tragic politicization of his passing.  There is political work to do, of course, but it was sad, though not surprising, that a presidential candidate had tweeted an opening shot before the Supreme Court had even published an official statement on the loss of their colleague.

This presidential campaign cycle? Wow.

Best I can tell, nine viable candidates remain—two Democrats (Clinton; Sanders), six Republicans (Bush; Carson; Cruz; Kasich; Rubio; Trump), and one lurking independent (Bloomberg). It is possible that Batman or a Muppet or One Direction (campaign slogan alert?) may enter the field, too, given this unpredictable election cycle.

If the presidential field took the field as a baseball team, I’d put Sanders in left (of course), Bloomberg in center (of course), and Cruz in right (of course). Trump would have to play first because it has a #1 in it. Bush and Kasich would necessarily be the (Republican Establishment’s) double-play combination, and Clinton would be a natural at the hot corner given her experience with controversy. I’d put Carson behind the plate (i.e., coming from behind now anyway), and Rubio could take the mound since he is the youngest candidate and may have the most lively arm.

American presidential politics is both fascinating and disturbing, sort of like a roadside accident elicits a peek. Although I vote and appreciate our system, my personal philosophy is best summed up by the late Will D. Campbell (and speaking of baseball): “I watch the political process pretty much as I watch baseball. I have a favorite team, but I know that ultimately it makes no difference who wins. I gave up on politics offering any hope for the world’s problems a long time ago.”

There is a complex thought system that underlies the quote. Just so you know.

Well, I’ll risk oversimplification and explain it this way: I stand with Will D. Campbell and Dr. King in believing that the hope for the world lies in our ability to see one another as brothers and sisters.

Watching our prospective leaders in a democracy speak as they do is a direct reflection of our own hearts, and it seems that we hate each other. Well, maybe not hate (yes, I do mean hate), but at least we resent or despise or fear each other. Surely not family.

I am happy that the inspiring friendship between Justice Scalia and Justice Ginsburg has received some attention this weekend.  It is unfortunate that it appears to have zero effect on the presidential campaign.

My best bet as to who will win in November? Nobody. Oh, someone will be elected president of these United States, but in this political climate, I’m not predicting any real winners. I am predicting a lot of angry people. (I’m also predicting a large number of folks will renege on their pledge to move to Canada if ________ is elected.)

It is personally comforting that I do not believe the “hope for the world’s problems” lies in a presidential election, but at the same time, it is troubling that the hope I believe in appears to have zero traction, Scalia/Ginsburg notwithstanding.

I’m going to see everyone as brothers and sisters anyway.

Freedom is Respect

As I reflect on last week’s inaugural (and wonderful) Diversity Week at Pepperdine Law, the following passage from my hero, Will D. Campbell, comes to mind.

“The civil rights gains we have made are largely cosmetic,” my old friend, Kelly Miller Smith, told me just before he died. One would have expected to hear those words in earlier times, when the gains of black people had been more modest than it seemed to me they had been during his lifetime and mine. He had been a pivotal figure in it all. Buses and taxicabs, schools, restaurants, theaters, parks, swimming pools, as well as participation in the political process had all been desegregated since he and I had come to Tennessee from Mississippi in the rigidly, segregated decade of the fifties. He from a black church in Vicksburg, I from a white university in Oxford. His little daughter had been one of the nine brave children who faced the violent mobs to begin the slow and painful process of integrated education. The church he pastored for thirty-four years was headquarters for the massive sit-in movement. Quietly or obstreperously, whatever the situation indicated, he negotiated with mayors, governors, merchants, and owners such issues as employment, housing, fairness, and decency in general.

All that he had been party to and more. Yet here he lay, a few weeks from death, saying that all his efforts had produced no more than a cosmetic coating over an inveterate malignancy as socially lethal as the one claiming his life. I protested with a roll call of the improvements he had presided over. He listened in his usual smiling, affable manner as I listed them one by one, beginning with public transportation in 1956 and concluding with his being a dean and teacher in one of the most prestigious universities in the South where he could not have been more than janitor not many years earlier.

“But they still don’t respect us,” he said sadly. After a long pause for needed oxygen, he continued. “Look at the television shows. Listen to the rhetoric on the streets. They still don’t respect us.”

His words were a startling awakening. How far I had missed the point of it all. How dissimilar the promised lands two Mississippi men had envisioned. To grant the truth of his words would be to acknowledge that the years of both of us had been wasted. He spoke with approval and gratefulness for the things I recited, but as he did it became clear to me that the one thing which was behind all else was never his. Respect.

Freedom is respect.

– Will D. Campbell, Forty Acres and a Goat 269-70 (2002).

That is what gave me great joy this past week—the giving and receiving of respect.