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Fence Movers

My/Our friend Brent Beasley, formerly pastor at Second Baptist here in Memphis, was speaking one year at a an MLK day service at Annesdale-Cherokee Missionary Baptist Church. He was the only white minister on the podium among many eloquent and powerful African American pastors. He felt rather intimidated. Nonetheless, he dared to start his sermon with a story about Quakers in Poland after WWII.  It worked then.  It still works.

After the devastation of WWII, Quakers brought relief to the impoverished people of Poland. They distributed food and clothing, along with other relief measures. One of the Quaker relief workers contracted Typhus and died. There were only Roman Catholic cemeteries in this little Polish village, and church law forbade anyone not of that faith to be buried in that ground. So the Quakers buried their friend in a grave just outside the Catholic cemetery. The next morning, however, there was a surprise. During the night the villagers had moved the fence so that the cemetery now included the grave of the Quaker relief worker.

As you might imagine, Brent went on to suggest that Dr. King was a “fence mover,” not a “fence sitter” and certainly not a “fence builder.” And he wondered aloud “Wouldn’t it be something if we got to the point in Memphis where the fence movers outnumbered the fence builders and fence sitters— and outworked and out hoped them too?”

We’ve all heard similar analogies made before. Bridge builders vs. wall builders. But I think I like Brent’s image better, because it calls into question who is included and who has not been included. It’s an image about redrawing the boundaries of who belongs.

Well, the issues of racial justice that Dr. King brought to our mind nearly 60 years ago, are, obviously, still with us. The killings in Baton Rouge and St. Paul and Dallas, as well as the marches in our own city, have reminded us in very stark ways that we may have made some progress, but we still have a long way to go.
I hope you agree with me that this is not just a civic problem, but a moral imperative, one that the Church should be attending to, even leading the way. The columnist, Leonard Pitts, challenged ministers at the Festival of Homiletics this year with the following statement: “Who wants to be a part of a faith that is late to the great battles for human dignity? People of faith should be ahead of the pack. We should be the lonely voices crying forth in the wilderness until the rest of the world catches up to us.”

To that end, I, along with Brittany and Mary, have been meeting with over 250 local ministers every Monday evening for dialogue and prayer. I have been in conversation with our neighbor Rev. Myron Donald at Greater Lewis Street Missionary Baptist, about what we can do together as congregations. I have made similar calls to several other pastors of African American congregations, as well. Our Easter Sunrise congregations here in midtown delivered flowers to local police precincts after Dallas and are seeking ways to work together for racial justice. As opportunities come to fruition, we will let you know.

But the most powerful thing any of us can do right now is to pray and to listen and to learn and to commit ourselves to be fence movers and bridge builders in the course of our everyday lives. To reach out and to get to know all of our fellow children, especially those whose skin color or background might be different than our own. Don’t wait for them to reach out to you.  You/we need to reach out to them. In so doing, we will be following the example of the One who extended himself and in the process moved a lot of fences, built a lot of bridges, and tore down a lot of walls. Let us be faithful to follow Christ in such manner, especially now. As our new sign says, “We will get there together, or we won’t get there at all.”  

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the August edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at 8:00 AM
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