Justice

Category Archives: Justice

Oscar Romero

On February 23, 1997, a priest named Oscar Romero was installed as Catholic Archbishop of El Salvador. His appointment dismayed a number of his fellow priests and delighted the repressive governing regime. Romero was known as a conservative and both the government and reform minded priests thought he would remain silent on the human rights abuses that were occurring throughout the country.

Romero soon proved them wrong. During his priesthood he had spent time with the campesinos (peasant farmers) that made up his congregations and his attitude to politics changed. He saw the ways power and wealth were manipulated to the advantage of a small group of families. For the poor majority this issued in hunger, children dying because their parents could not afford medicines, and extreme violence, including beatings, rape and murder, when they dared object.

Two weeks after his installation, Archbishop Romero’s friend, Rutilio Grande, was murdered by the paramilitary. Grande had been creating self-reliance groups among the campesinos and was seen to challenge the status quo. Romero demanded the Government investigate the murder, but his demand was met with silence.

From this point on Romero’s opposition to State sanctioned injustice became increasingly vocal. He used his masses, his public speeches, his Sunday sermons that were broadcast by radio, and both public and private correspondence, to denounce the exploitation of the poor and the violence against those who opposed injustice. He publicly reported injustices and called for reform of the political and economic institutions which entrenched violence and injustice. He refused to officiate or appear at Government events, knowing that would be seen as endorsing the State. When the Government refused to investigate its crimes, Romero established his own investigative tribunal to bring the crimes to light. Romero became an outspoken advocate for justice.

Romero had got in the way. On the 24th May 1980, as he was celebrating mass, Romero was assassinated by gunshot. Just moments before he had said:

We know that every effort to improve society, above all when society is so full of injustice and sin, is an effort that God blesses, that God wants, that God demands of us.

When benevolence becomes an instrument of oppression

In 1976 the philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff attended a conference in South Africa. The participants included Afrikaner, black and “coloured” theologians from South Africa and scholars from Europe and the US. Apartheid was in full force and the air was filled with tension. The Dutch theologians were furious with the Dutch Reformed Afrikaners for supporting apartheid. The Afrikaners were furious that they were being attacked.

Some way into the conference, the black and “coloured” South Africans started to speak of their lives under apartheid. They described the daily humiliations, their suffering and pain. The response of the Afrikaners was to be indignant. They spoke of acts of benevolence and charity they had shown their brothers and sisters – gifts of clothing, toys for the black children, and more. They argued that their black brothers and sisters should be satisfied with this.

Nicholas Wolterstorff was shocked. For the first time he was seeing benevolence used as an instrument of oppression.

Two years later he was invited to a conference in Palestine. There he heard Palestinians speak with great intensity of their pain, of being driven out of their homes, their right to return and the indignities heaped upon them. They couldn’t understand why no-one spoke up for them.

Nicholas Wolterstorff was changed by these two experiences. In the voices of the black and “coloured” South Africans and the dispossessed Palestinians, he recognised for the first time that what they needed was not benevolence but justice.

We can wait no longer. Martin Luther King’s Letter to White Church Leaders

In 1960, Martin Luther King was imprisoned after leading a civil rights march. His dream seemed a long way off. Criticised by white church leaders, he responded with his famous “Letter from an Alabama Jail”, which included this section:

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair.

Faced with injustices like these, it would be understandable if King had become stuck in “the abyss of despair”. His letter oozes a compassion for the suffering of his fellow African-Americans and a smouldering anger at the injustices heaped upon them. But his movement aroused violent opposition. Even the white church, which he had hoped would side with his cause, opposed what he was doing. At times the challenge must have seemed too big, the forces of oppression too powerful, and the future fated to be an endless rerun of the past.

But to his compassion and anger King added hope. He was convinced that his dream was in fact God’s dream; that God too had

One small voice can start a revolution

In 2004 Victor Yushchenko stood for the presidency of the Ukraine. Vehemently opposed by the ruling party Yushchenko’s face was disfigured and he almost lost his life when he was mysteriously poisoned. This was not enough to deter him from standing for the presidency.

On the day of the election Yushchenko was comfortably in the lead. The ruling party, not to be denied, tampered with the results. The state-run television station reported “ladies and gentlemen, we announce that the challenger Victor Yushchenko has been decisively defeated.”

In the lower right-hand corner of the screen a woman by the name of Natalia Dmitruk was providing a translation service for the deaf community. As the news presenter regurgitated the lies of the regime, Natalia Dmitruk refused to translate them. “I’m addressing all the deaf citizens of Ukraine” she signed. “They are lying and I’m ashamed to translate those lies. Yushchenko is our president.”

The deaf community sprang into gear. They text messaged their friends about the fraudulent result and as news spread of Dmitruk’s act of defiance increasing numbers of journalists were inspired to likewise tell the truth. Over the coming weeks the “Orange Revolution” occurred as a million people wearing orange made their way to the capital city of Kiev demanding a new election. The government was forced to meet their demands, a new election was held and Victor Yushchenko became president.

Philip Yancey writes

“When I heard the story behind the orange revolution, the image of a small screen of truth in the corner of the big screen became for me an ideal picture of the church. You see we as a church do not control the big screen. (When we do, we usually mess it up.) Go to any magazine rack or turn on the television and you see a consistent message. What matters is how beautiful you are, how much money or power you have. Similarly, though the world includes many poor people, they rarely make the magazine covers or the news shows. Instead we focus on the superrich, names like Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey.… Our society is hardly unique. Throughout history nations have always glorified winners, not losers. Then, like the sign language translator in the lower right-hand corner of the screen, along comes a person named Jesus who says in effect, Don’t believe the big screen – they’re lying. It’s the poor who are blessed, not the rich. Mourners are blessed too, as well as those who hunger and thirst, and the persecuted. Those who go through life thinking they’re on top end up on the bottom. And those who go through life feeling they’re on the bottom end up on the top. After all, what does it profit a person to gain the whole world and lose his soul?

Source: Philip Yancey, What Good Is God, pages 184-186

The Underground Railroad

Levi Coffin is an unsung hero of the American anti-slavery movement. In the 1820’s Coffin moved to Newport, Indiana and opened a shop. His home soon became a central point on the famous Underground Railroad, a pathway from slavery in the USA’s South to freedom in Canada. People like Coffin would take enormous personal risk to help fleeing slaves on their journey. Coffin provided refuge for up to 17 refugee slaves at a time at his house, and so active was he that three major routes on the Underground Railroad converged at his place which became known as Grand Central Terminal.

Because of his activities Coffin received frequent death threats and warnings that his shop and home would be burned. Yet he was undeterred. Like many of the whites involved in the Underground Railroad he was driven by his Christian convictions. Coffin was a Quaker and explaining his commitment said “The bible, in bidding us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, said nothing about colour.”

Levi Coffin is just one example of a person who decided to do what he could about an injustice he saw. And his action resulted in hundreds of oppressed slaves finally finding their freedom.

Source: reported in Readers Digest July 2001

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was Professor of theology at the University of Berlin in Germany in 1930’s. At this time German Christians were divided over Hitler. One group allied themselves with Hitler, they wanted a “pure” German nation. They formed an official German church which supported Hitler and banned Jews from holding official positions in the Church. Bonhoeffer was among those who could not go along with Hitler’s anti-Jewish, radically German vision. With others he set up an underground church which explicitly refused to ally itself to Hitler’s Third Reich vision. It was dangerous. In 1937 Bonhoeffer was sacked. He flees to London. Two years later Bonhoeffer’s faced with a choice. He’s been offered one of the most prestigious theology appointments in the world – lecturing at Union Seminary in New York or returning to Germany to head up an illegal, underground seminary for the churches who refuse to go along with Hitler. He decides his faith is meaningless if he takes the easy option. He heads back to Germany and finds Hitler so evil that he abandons his commitment to non violence and gets involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler. The plot fails and in 1943 Bonhoeffer’s arrested. In prison he leads worship services for his fellow prisoners, until the fateful day April 9, 1945 when he’s executed by the Nazis.

Through all this what distressed Bonehoeffer was the way so many Christians could sell out to Hitler’s evil vision. How could people who owned the name of Christ so betray Christ? How could they pray in a church which banned Jews from holding office? It convinced Bonehoeffer that religiosity in and of itself was worthless. It didn’t matter how fervently a person believed in Jesus, how many times each day they prayed, how earnestly and sincerely they sang hymns on Sundays. In the end the measure of spirituality is not how we are in the church but how we are in the whole of life. In the end the measure of spirituality is to live in the world as a man or woman who is for others.

 

Source: based on numerous accounts of Bonhoeffer

Desmond Tutu’s Confidence

During the deepest, darkest days of apartheid when the government tried to shut down opposition by canceling a political rally, Archbishop Desmond Tutu declared that he would hold a church service instead.
St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa was filled with worshippers. Outside the cathedral hundreds of police gathered, a show of force intended to intimidate. As Tutu was preaching they entered the Cathedral, armed, and lined the walls. They took out notebooks and recorded Tutu’s words.
But Tutu would not be intimidated. He preached against the evils of apartheid, declaring it could not endure. At one extraordinary point he addressed the police directly.
[quote]You are powerful. You are very powerful, but you are not gods and I serve a God who cannot be mocked. So, since you’ve already lost, since you’ve already lost, I invite you today to come and join the winning side![/quote]
With that the congregation erupted in dance and song.
The police didn’t know what to do. Their attempts at intimidation had failed, overcome by the archbishop’s confidence that God and goodness would triumph over evil. It was but a matter of time.
Source: reported in Jim Wallis, God’s Politics

Hillbilly Preacher

Being prophetic in leadership and preaching is challenging but it can also be transforming. Take the case of the once racially segregated churches in South Carolina, USA. One of the Baptist Churches there appointed a new preacher, who though very uneducated, understood the gospel. Most pastors would recoil at his preaching method.  For his first sermon he simply flipped the bible open and started preaching the words his finger landed on, Paul’s words to the Galatians that in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. In 1950’s southern USA where churches were racially segregated the application was obvious, at least to the preacher. There shouldn’t be black churches and white churches, there should just be churches made up of black and white.

The deacons weren’t so appreciative of this message and demanded that their new preacher preach something different! The preacher did do something different – he fired the deacons and kept on preaching his message of racial unity. Many people left the church. His already small congregation became even smaller, dwindling to just four people. But then it started to grow, bit by bit, until it included people of all races.  One congregation member was a lecturer in English Literature at the university of Southern Carolina who would drive 70 miles to listen to this uneducated preacher. His reason? “Because that mean preaches the gospel.”

Source: Reported in Tony Campolo, You Can Make a Difference

The Heaviest Snowflake

“Tell me the weight of a snowflake,” a cola-mouse asked a wild dove.

“Nothing more than nothing,” was the answer.

“In that case, I must tell you a marvellous story,” the coal-mouse said.

“I sat on the branch of a fir, close to its trunk, when it began to snow-not heavily, not in a raging blizzard-no, just like a dream, without a sound and without any violence. Since I did not have anything better to do, I counted the snowflakes settling on the twigs and needles of my branch. Their number was exactly 3,741,952. When the 3,741,953rd dropped onto the branch, nothing more than nothing, as you say-the branch broke off.”

Having said that, the coal-mouse flew away.

The dove, since Noah’s time an authority on the matter, thought about the story for awhile, and finally said to herself, “Perhaps there is only one person’s voice lacking for peace to come to the world.”

Source: Kurt Kauter, New Fables – Thus Spoke The Carabou

The Four Philanthropists

There is a story about a village which was overtaken by enemy forces. All of the warriors who inhabited the village were gathered together and imprisoned by the conquerors.

Amidst the villagers were four philanthropists who became aware of the prison conditions that their compatriots were enduring. The first philanthropist went to the prison and said to the captors, “I understand that my brothers are without clean water. I want to take all my riches, and use them to purify the water, so that my brothers will have clean water, that they will not get sick.” The captors agreed and granted the man this right. He walked away, glad that he had been able to show this act of charity for his brothers.

The second philanthropist went to the prison, and approached the captors, saying “I understand my brothers are sleeping on rocks. I want to take all my riches, and provide bedding for the men, so they may rest comfortably in prison.” The captors agreed, and the man left, feeling that he had fulfilled his purpose in aiding his brothers’ plight.

The third philanthropist went to the prison, and spoke to the captors, saying “I have heard that my brothers have no food. They have only bread and water. I have a large farm, and want to harvest all my crops to see that the men have good food to eat while they are in prison.” The captors agreed, and the philanthropist left, knowing he had done much good in helping his brothers in prison.

The fourth philanthropist though heartened by the acts of the other three, was disturbed that his brothers remained unfairly imprisoned. So he found the keys to the prison, and one night, he slipped into the prison and freed all his brothers from their captivity.

The four philanthropists show us the difference between mercy and justice. The first three engaged in acts of mercy. They certainly came to the aid of their brothers and made their difficult circumstances more comfortable, but they did nothing to change the unjust situation. The fourth philanthropist acted to change the unjust situation, not just the circumstances. He acted to pursue justice and not simply mercy.

Source: Unknown.

Telemachus and the Colosseum

The story of Telemachus is the story of extreme courage in the face of evil. Telemachus was a Christian monk who, in 391CE, went on a pilgrimage to Rome. While there he noticed crowds flocking to the Colosseum to see gladiators do battle. He followed them in, only to witness a sight that repulsed him.

Emperor Honorius was celebrating his triumph over the Goths. Gladiators armed with spears and swords reenacted the battle.  After their reenactment the bodies of the dead were dragged from the arena and its bloodied surface covered with a fresh layer of sand.

In came a new series of gladiators. Some were armed with swords and spears, others with nets. The crowd watched with excitement as they sought to outdo each other. When a gladiator was wounded, his opponent would loom over him, waiting for the crowd’s verdict on whether to slay him or let him live. So great was the bloodlust that at times wealthier spectators would climb down to get a better view of the execution.

Telemachus watched with horror as people died, battles raged and the crowds cheered. Prompted into action, this bald headed, robed figure found his way onto the arena floor. He ran toward two gladiators locked in battle, grabbed one of them and pulled him away. He exhorted the two gladiators to abandon their murderous sport. He appealed to the crowd to not to break God’s law by murdering.

The response was anything but favourable. Angry voices drowned out Telemachus’, demanding that the spectacle continue. The gladiators prepared to do battle again, but Telemachus stood between them, holding them apart, urging them to reconsider. Driven by the anger of the crowd and their rage at Telemachus’ interference, the gladiators cut Telemachus to the ground, as the crowd threw missiles at him. Telemachus was killed.

But his death was not in vain. In 405 Emperor Honorius declared gladiatorial battles were to end at the Colosseum. Tradition tells us that it was Telemachus’ brave protest that helped move him to do so.

Source: Reported in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.

Standing Firm for Justice

It has been said that all that is needed for evil to succeed is for good people to stay quiet. And the converse is also true, when good people speak up, evil can be defeated. This was graphically illustrated inside Bulgaria during the dark days of World War 2.

Bulgaria was allied to Germany, with a formal agreement made in 1941. This agreement allowed for German military bases inside Bulgaria, while handing back to Bulgaria lands that had been in dispute between the two countries. Members of the Bulgarian government who wished to implement Hitler’s “final solution” against the Jews planned to begin the first phase by sending all the Jews from the returned lands to Germany’s concentration camps.

When a member of Parliament, Peshev, heard of the plan he gathered other representatives and marched into the office of the Minister for the Interior, demanding an explanation. Peshev and the others pressured him to rescind the order, which he did.

However, not all regions received the telegram in time. In Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second largest city, Jewish people were rounded up during the early morning, with most held in the local school hall, awaiting deportation by train to Germany. Here Metropolitan Kyrill, the head of the local church acted immediately. He sent a telegram of protest to the king, threatening to lie across the tracks in front of the first train to leave with Jews. He then went to the school where he was barred entry by the police. Announcing that he no longer felt himself bound by the laws of the government and would act according to his conscience as a minister of Christ, Kyrill climbed the fence promising the Jews gathered there “Wherever you go, I’ll go.”

Some time after the order not to deport the Jews arrived at Plovdin and they got to return to their homes. Meanwhile, local MP Peshev was expelled from the vice presidency of the Parliament and censured.

Foiled at their first effort, the Gestapo pressured the king into an order that Jews be expelled from cities into the Bulgarian countryside. They hoped this would stir up anti-Semitism in the country and allow the deportations to go ahead. It was at this point that Metropolitan Stefan, head of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church came into his own. He convened a meeting of his church’s Synod which unanimously condemned the order to move Jews into the countryside.

The government made plans to go ahead with the deportation anyway, scheduling it for a day of national celebration, in the hope that the deportation would go unnoticed among the day’s festivities.  Stefan would have none of this. As head of the national church it was his job to officiate during the celebrations. Standing on the steps of the cathedral, a large crowd lay before him and the members of the government, including the Prime Minister, sat behind him. He threw away his prepared speech, strongly condemned the persecution of the Jews and called on the government to resist the influence of the Nazis. The Prime Minister rose after Stefan to denounce him and called on him to stop interfering in political matters.

The deportation to country areas proceeded, but Stefan was unbowed. In the face of threats to arrest him he offered to christen all Jews who wished to, a measure that would mean they could not be deported to Germany. The Minister for the Interior responded by refusing to recognise all christening certificates issued after January 1, 1943, and ordering the closure of the churches of Sofia. Stefan informed the government that his Churches would ignore the order and sent a circular to all his parish priests explaining the fate awaiting Jews in Germany. Fearing a public backlash the government backed down. The churches remained open until the end of the war and the Jews were allowed to remain in Bulgaria. Tens of thousands of lives were saved, all because people of good conscience refused to be silent in the face of evil.

Source: reported in Christianity Today magazine, Oct 4, 1999. Vol 43, No. 11.

Christ is with Us

The great American civil rights leader Martin Luther King was a person with tremendous courage. He endured vilification, beatings, imprisonments, death threats, his house was firebombed, and as we all know, he eventually was assassinated.

So what kept him going? It was his strong sense of God’s call upon his life. King was just 26 years old when he was appointed leader of the civil rights campaign in Montgomery, Alabama. Apart from terrifying threats from the Ku Klux Klan, King was harassed by police. Arrested for driving 5 miles per hour over the speed limit he was given his first stint in jail. The night after his release he was at home when the phone rang. “Nigger”, said a menacing voice on the other end, we are tired of you and your mess now. And if you aren’t out of this town in three days, we’re going to blow your brains out and blow up your house.”

King was unnerved and very afraid – for himself, for his wife and for his little children. Shortly after the phone call he sat at his kitchen table drinking a cup of coffee. “And I sat at that table” he said, “thinking about that little girl and thinking about the fact that she could be taken away from me at any minute. And I started thinking about a dedicated, devoted and loyal wife, who was over there asleep…And I got to the point where I couldn’t take it anymore. I was weak…

And I discovered then that religion had to become real to me, and I had to know God for myself. And I bowed down over that cup of coffee. I will never forget it…I said, ‘Lord, I’m down here trying to do what’s right. I think I’m right. I think the cause we represent is right. But Lord, I must confess that I’m weak now. I’m faltering. I’m losing my courage…And it seemed to me at that moment that I could hear an inner voice saying to me, ‘Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo, I will be with you, even until the end of the world.’…I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone. No never alone.. No never alone. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone.”

Three nights later the menacing threat made in the phone call came true: a bomb exploded on the front verandah of the King home. Thankfully no one was hurt. But King was able to get through it: “My religious experience a few nights before had given me strength to face it.” Time and again throughout his ministry Martin Luther King returned to that experience to strengthen him as he faced terrible difficulties.

How Could You Have Let This Happen?

Joe Slovo and Ruth First were leaders in the African National Congress, and murdered by a parcel bomb during South Africa’s apartheid era. It was sent by the South African police force. Since apartheid ended, their daughter, Gillian, has travelled extensively across South Africa, seeking to help in her country’s healing and restoration. In the process she has come across many of the children of White South Africans who had been active in the oppression on non-whites. One woman, a journalist of similar age to Gillian remarked to her: “I know it must have been hard for you to be your parent’s daughter. I know that there are many costs to be paid by the child of heroes. But imagine how it feels to be me: to have to look at my parents, and to ask of them – how could you? How could you have witnessed all this and said nothing. How could you have let it happen?”

Source: reported in Gillian Slovo,  “Making history: South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission”,  opendemocracy.com, 5 – 12 – 2002

Benevolence is not Justice

Nicholas Wolterstorff is the Noah Porter Emeritus Professor of Philosophical Theology at Yale University. A noted philosopher, he is also a passionate advocate for justice. In his book, Justice. Rights and Wrongs, he tells how two experiences awakened this passion.  The first occured in 1976, when he attended a conference in South Africa. Apartheid was in full force, yet at this conference were Afrikaner, black and “coloured” theologians from South Africa, along with scholars from Europe and the US. The conference was filled with tension. The Dutch theologians were furious with the Dutch Reformed Afrikaners for supporting apartheid. The Afrikaneers were furious that they were being attacked. Then, some way into the conference, the black and “coloured” South Africans started to speak of their lives under apartheid. They described the daily humiliations, of their suffering and pain. The response of the Afrikaners was to be indignant. They spoke of acts of benevolence and charity they had shown their brothers and sisters and argued that they should be satisfied with this. Nicholas Wolterstorff was shocked. For the first time he was seeing benevolence used as an instrument of oppression. He was determined he must speak for justice.

Two years later he was invited to a conference in Palestine. There he heard Palestinians speak with great intensity of their pain, of being driven out of their homes, their right to return and the indignities heaped upon them. They couldn’t understand why no-one spoke up for them.

Nicholas Wolterstorff was changed by these two experiences. In the voices of the black and “coloured” South Africans and the dispossessed Palestinians, he recognised for the first time that what they needed was not benevolence but justice.

 

Source: Reported in Wolterstorff (2008), Justice. Rights and Wrongs, Princeton University Press

An Ideal for Which I Am Prepared to Die

Nelson Mandela is an iconic figure. Now regarded as one of the world’s great statesmen, he spent decades in prison for his stance against apartheid. He was sentenced in the Rivonia treason trial of 1964. Facing the death sentence he made this statement to the Court:

“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

I Have a Dream

On the twenty-eight of August, 1963, a Baptist pastor stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC ready to deliver a speech. A crowd of more than 200,000 people stretched out in front of him. I imagine he was filled with both excitement and fear. He began delivering the speech he had prepared, but midway through it he put his notes aside and spoke from the very depths of his heart. There in the open air, on the steps of the Lincoln memorial, Dr Martin Luther King gave what many regard as the greatest sermon of the twentieth century.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

We have to remember how audacious King’s dream was. To many it seemed an impossible dream. It was a dream forged in a country where blacks and whites were segregated by custom and law, where the rivers of division ran so  deep it seemed foolishness to suggest they could be overcome.

But for this Baptist pastor standing at the Lincoln memorial in front of 200,000 people it was a possible dream because it was God’s dream. King was convinced that God dreamed of a world where the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners sit down together at the table of brotherhood, and that in the civil rights movement the Spirit of God was at work bringing this world into being.

So I want to ask you a question. What is God dreaming about today?

A Workable Plan

Is it possible for a small group of people to make a difference to the practises of multinational corporations? In at least some cases it is, as was proven by a group of sociology students from Eastern College in the USA. Set an assignment in which they were asked how a small group of Christians could bring about significant social change these students focussed upon the practises of the Gulf and Western Corporation in the impoverished country of Haiti. Their proposal was so audacious one of the students said “why don’t we do it?”. Why not take this beyond a college paper and actually put their proposal into action?

Their method was simple. Along with their professor, Tony Campolo, each student purchased a share in Gulf and Western and showed up to the annual general meeting. As shareholders they were entitled to have a say in the running of the company, and one by one stood up, read passages from the bible that condemned injustice, then asked why Gulf and Western was treating the people of Haiti unjustly. They wanted the company to address the issue of low wages for the sugar workers, to do something about the fact that they’d made the country more and more dependent on a single crop, and to provide education and medical services for the people.

The purpose was to shame the directors into action, and they were effective. The directors of Gulf and Western invited the students to meet to talk the issues over. Eighteen months later Gulf and Western released a plan to act in a socially responsible way in the Dominican Republic. They would partner with Mt. Sinai Medical Center to create health services in Dominican Republic communities, would set aside substantial amounts of quality land to produce food for the Dominican people, and would institute a variety of educational programs that included working with Eastern University to develop a new university that would train teachers, lawyers, nurses, and engineers. Over the next five years Gulf and Western spent half a billion dollars following through on their plans. And the lives of thousands were dramatically improved.

Source: Reported in Tony Campolo You Can Make a Difference and Let Me Tell You a Story.