By Jennifer Johnson
This August, Matt and I took the kids to Washington, D.C., for several days of museums and merriment. (A tip: if you have kids, the single best thing you can ever spend money on in your entire life is a hotel room with a set of bunk beds and a second TV.)
Because we are rock stars at planning, our week in the city happened to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, which meant visiting the Lincoln Memorial with 9 trillion extra people. It also meant that on the morning of the event, while Nina and I had our own cultural experience of sleeping in and eating Cocoa Puffs, Matt and Miles were forced by the crowds to abandon their planned bike ride to Arlington National Cemetery and “march for jobs and justice” instead.
The march was led by veterans of the 1963 event and culminated in a speech by President Obama on the same spot where Martin Luther King Jr. once told a nation that he had a dream. Tens of thousands of people participated, and the Johnson men joined them, getting close to the National Mall before crowds and road closures forced them to lock up the bikes and leave Arlington for another day.
In true 21st-century American fashion, the march included not only stirring speeches and powerful demonstrations of unity but also appearances by the ubiquitous Oprah Winfrey and a performance of “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Trayvon Martin’s parents. (Apparently if you suffer a huge personal tragedy in our country you earn the right to sing on national television.)
As I read the speeches and watched the news coverage, I thought about meeting with Watson Jones, Jordan Rice, and Brent Storms last summer to talk about the stories behind The Orchard Group’s new church plants. We talked frankly about the difficulties of respectfully navigating the race issue and the blessings of uniting around our shared faith.
I don’t know what it is to be African-American in this country, on the receiving end of bigotry and hate. I only know what it is to be white (German-American?), to feel vaguely guilty for my great-great-grandparents’ prejudices, and to wish for greater understanding among people of all cultures. I know Revelation tells us to expect a crowd of people from every nation when we assemble around the throne. And I know that while our country is repeatedly wrenched apart by anger and violence, the kingdom of God should not be.
We can’t all start a new congregation in a racially diverse area, and of course a church in an almost-all-white community isn’t going to look like a congregation in Harlem. But that church can pray for the Harlem one, and the Harlem one can love the Indian church down the street, and the Indians can open their hearts to their Latino neighbors, and in this way all of us can be an example now of the kingdom to come.
Because when “black men and white men . . . Protestants and Catholics” join hands in worship and in service, we are giving the world an example that no protest or demonstration ever can. It’s time to go beyond living out King’s dream for America and begin living out our King’s dream for his people.