Pharaoh said, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go."
Forty-one years ago today, a group of African men decided to protest the obsurdity of having to carry ID cards under the Apartheid system in the country of South Africa. Their protest was simply to refuse to carry the cards, report to the local police station, and have themselves imprisoned. The act of civil disobedience was leaked to the police and sixty-nine men died while countless others were injured or maimed in what is now called the Sharpesville Massacre.
On May 4th, 1963, thousands of children marched in the streets of Birmingham Alabama to protest unequal educational opportunities and were met with water cannons, police dogs, and policemen wielding billy clubs. Hundreds were injured in what was termed the Children's crusade.
I share these stories with you to remind you that evil is real and will form a resistance to any movements of social justice. We often naively have faith that culture, community, and country will have the moral fortitude to respond to truth with justice. In our our trust in the goodness of humanity, we believe that people and institutions that have been benefiting from evil and exploitive practices, will change, once they are confronted with the reality of injustice. Yet, time after time, social justice movements are discouraged when evil simply resists.
In the Exodus narrative, Pharoah was a real person and Egypt was a real nation. Yet, one can not help read the story and come to understand that Pharoah represents evil personified and Egypt represents evil systematized. It was not enough for Moses to "speak truth to power". Pharoah lacked the empathy and the understanding of a justice that seeks liberation as a means of becoming fully human. As you know, it was only through God's intervention that Pharoah finally granted the freedom of the Israelites.
Even in the civil rights movement in the 1960's, just sharing the truth was not enough, despite the eloquence of King and the new multi-media capabilities of TV and radio. Evil resists. Its character is not shielded in ignorance (the people did not know better; thats the way they were raised; it was culturally acceptable then, etc.) but amplified in its hideousness in the face of the truth. Make no mistake about it, evil resists.
Three things about the resistance of Evil:
1. Evil will not be overcome without a demand. Fredrick Douglas said so eloquently that "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” We must confront Evil with a specific demand for change. Moses didn't approach Pharoah with a message of "Slavery is wrong". His message from God was "Let my people go that they may go and worship me". We must clearly articulate what is being demanded.
2. Ignorance is often a cloak of evil. Truth telling is absolutely necessary in order for us to remove the cloak of evil and see it for what it is. Abolitionists in the 19th century realized that most Slave owners were not moved by the morality of anti-slavery advocates because their true god was money. Slavery was about greed over the lives of others. Truth takes away the excuses and sentimentality that we attribute to those who are morally evil but excuse it on the times, situations, or culture.
3. Justice can only be invoked when Evil is provoked. Whether we are talking about the Israelites in Egypt or the contemporary movements such as the civil rights movement, actions that provoke evil are essential. It is not enough to pray that justice be done, but provocative acts (not violent acts) demanding justice must ensue. These provocative acts typically will reveal the character of the evil institutions, while testing the character of those involved in the justice movement. The counter sit-ins of the early civil rights movements are an excellent example of a provocative actions that invoke a sense of justice.
Maybe God is stirring within you a sense of justice. Maybe you can not stand the fact that millions today are caught in slavery around the world. Maybe unnecessary hunger makes your blood boil. Maybe you weep when you learned that bombs struck Libya yesterday. God has always raised up human advocates for justice in the face of injustice, and I believe that this is what is supposed to be the prophetic character of the church. A church that witnesses the love of God to a broken world. Justice, as Cornel West puts it, is what love looks like in public.
A great friend once asked me: "What are you willing to bleed for?". Jesus told his disciples to pick up their crosses daily. Are you ready to demand justice? Are you anticipating the resistance? Are you willing to provoke evil, with all of the pain that you may experience? God promises that if we do not give up, that we will reap a harvest of blessings (Galatians 6:9).
Speak truth, demand justice, trust God, and change the world.
God bless you,
Pastor M Traylor