The silence of our friends

Ebenezer Baptist Church is a pretty ordinary building. It stands on a street corner in what is called the Old 4th Ward of Atlanta. And if it weren’t that its pastor was once Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, it would probably not attract much attention today. Now, however, it is a part of the National Park and Monument dedicated to the life and legacy of MLK and it stands next to the tombs of Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King, surrounded by a pool of water inscribed with the text: Let justice flow like rivers ….

I was extremely privileged to visit the Church during a recently visit to Atlanta, and to see for myself the very ordinariness of the place. The fellowship hall, where so much of the planning for the civil rights campaign took place, could easily be attached to an average British Methodist Chapel. Sitting in the sanctuary, I became aware of those countless thousands who came there to pray: prayers of suffering and oppression, of hope and joy, longing for freedom and justice. A sanctuary in a very real sense for those who sought respite, having been kicked and beaten by mobs of racists and police alike. I was praying in a holy place ….

I am cautious of claiming Dr King as a mentor and hero of the faith. As a sat in the Church where he ministered, I became very aware of my own privilege as a white male. I am a member of a group I did not choose, but nevertheless it grants me significant power still today. I am conscious too that others who claim MLK as their own would reject my demand for full rights and dignity as a gay man on theological or cultural grounds.

Nevertheless, Dr King inspires me because he was all too aware of the challenge of change. In his sermon on Matthew 10:16 (“Behold I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves, be ye therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves’’), he recognised that his call for serious thinking and compassion would be met with resistance. For he lived in a society where there

“is an almost universal quest for easy answers, and half-baked solutions.

Nothing pains some people more than the idea of having to think.”

The naivety of some good-h