“Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First, remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” Luke 6:42
Martin Luther King Jr. is the United States’ most famous civil rights leader, having advanced equality for racial minorities by using nonviolent civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs.
That method of protest inspired countless others to join him in seeking equality for all in America, including numerous faith leaders. The movement, perhaps unlike the United States at the time, did not discriminate based on color or creed.
King was assassinated in 1968, but the many people he inspired during his ministry continued to espouse his message of peace and justice.
Archbishop Iakovos of North and South America, who was one of the faith leaders who joined King at the March on Selma, later reflected on how the civil rights movement was not over and how it continued to be a driving force in his own life.
“I know that civil rights and human rights continue to be the most thorny social issues in our nation,” he said. “But I will stand for both rights for as long as I live.”
Decades after Archbishop Iakovos’s remarks, civil rights and human rights are still at the forefront of a national conversation—and in many ways still are “the most thorny social issues in our nation.” 2016 was undoubtedly a year of racial tension in America.
Despite statistical evidence of discrimination against African Americans in law enforcement, in housing and in employment, many people refuse to listen to the people in our communities who face that discrimination every day.
In light of King’s inspiring legacy, it is perhaps even more unfortunate that people deride contemporary civil rights organizations for their work in bringing an end to said discrimination.
The criticisms of the Black Lives Matter movement today, for example, eerily resemble those of Martin Luther King Jr.’s movement 50 years ago.
In a rebuke of the civil rights movement’s critique of white violence against blacks, one person in a 1966 telegram anonymously asked King, “what about the violence by blacks in these cities?”
“Hang your head in shame,” another wrote to King. “You are responsible for all of these riots and havoc in this country today.”
Still another wrote, “you don’t point out any faults at all of your own people, just the whites.”
Such an unwillingness to listen is in contradiction to the scriptures, in which God instructs us to “incline your ear to wisdom and apply your heart to understanding” (Proverbs 2:2).
As Christians, we are called to look inward and to improve upon ourselves instead of pointing out the flaws in others. It is based in the act of repentance, the recurring stage of salvation in which we turn away from sin.
How might you discriminate in your life? At the very least, it’s worth some thought.
Do you subconsciously put your hands in your pockets when you pass a black person on the street? Did you not consider a babysitting applicant because her name sounded like she might be black or Hispanic?
These days, it’s easy to deny being racist and to generally support the civil rights movement of Martin Luther King Jr.’s era. After all, you’re probably not lynching people or forcing them to drink from a different water fountain.
But how might racism still manifest itself in your life? How can you bring an end to racism in yourself?
Martin Luther King Jr. and Archbishop Iakovos knew that, as icons of Christ in the world, they were called to challenge the institutional inequalities in our country that unnecessarily pitted one group of people against another. Many others feel that they are called to similar work today.
For us, perhaps we ought to start simply with the person in the mirror.
Andrew Romanov is a Fellow at the U.N. for the Department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (un.goarch.org).
The Archdiocese is an accredited Non-Governmental Organization at the United Nations through the Department of Public Information (UN DPI) and has General Consultative Status under the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ECOSOC). It has been actively working at the United Nations for 30 years.