This past week I was with a group of black and white Christian ministers in Nashville, TN. The occasion was the 40th anniversary of a gathering in Atlanta after the death of Martin Luther King. In 1978 we lamented the separation that existed between black and white Christians. Now with a new generation we noted how complicated the world has become. Divisions between black and whites seem almost simple against the backdrop of ethnic and religious strife common today.
I have just finished reading Drew Gilpin Faust's This Republic of Suffering Death and the American Civil War (2008). Faust, now the president of Harvard, opens a door into understanding the shaping of the South in the post war period. The anger and hatred of blacks who dared challenge the peculiar institution boiled over and the cowardly retreat by the North is better understood when you realize the breadth of loss suffered by North and South in the Civil War. The enormous cost of the war in human terms came to overshadow the commitment to equality.
We live today with the implications of the divide between black and white and the new challenges of ethnicity and race are difficult to meet because we have not really understood that the human community is the only game in town. What diminishes one, diminishes all. Those who sell policies based on fear look backward to the bad old days and last week-end I was reminded how bad they were. But in the Nashville Public Library's Civil Rights Reading room we caught a glimpse of hope and were reminded of an idealism that changed America. It may be that we have come farther than we have thought.