Where do we go from here?
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. — Romans 12:21
June 1, 2020
United Theological Seminary is a multi-ethnic community. This year, about 49% of United’s 459 students are African American, while 60% of the mentors for United’s Doctor of Ministry and master’s Contextual Ministries programs are African American. Of our faculty and staff, 11 are African American, including United’s first female African American Vice President, Dr. Bridget Weatherspoon, VP for Enrollment; Dr. Vivian Johnson, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs; and Dr. Harold Hudson, Associate Dean for Doctoral Studies. This year, United’s Student Council elected its first African American president, Cara Watkins, who says that the affirming community she experienced at United helped her grow in her call to ministry.
On a personal level, I have an adopted African American daughter who works as a social worker in an Indianapolis Public School in an interracial low-income neighborhood. I have six African American grandchildren and step-grandchildren and one African American great-grandson.
The death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer, who has been charged with murder, in Minneapolis has caused great pain and anxiety in our seminary community and my family personally. My daughter, her husband and their children wonder if they will return home safely when they leave their home. George Floyd’s death is the latest reminder of a pattern in our nation where African Americans have been victims of hate crimes. People of goodwill must do all we can to stop this brutality and death.
We have not arrived as the nation that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr envisioned when he said, “I have a dream that one day my four children will live in a nation where they are judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Taylor Hall, my African American granddaughter, is studying Communications at Ball State University in Indiana. Recently she interviewed me about how I thought Dr. King would respond to our current situation, since I had marched with Dr. King for voting rights in Selma, Alabama, in 1965.
I told Taylor that the essence of Dr. King’s message was “non-violent” resistance to evils in our world. Before we could participate in a voting rights march in Selma, I and my fellow protesters had to go through non-violent resistance training. We would march around in a circle in a church while trainers would push and hit us and call us ugly names. We were instructed not to hit or shout back but simply to keep marching and singing civil rights songs. It was Dr. King’s non-violent resistance to the evils of segregation laws that resulted in the passage of Civil Rights legislation and brought about change in our nation.
In the 1960s Malcolm X was an African American leader who opposed Dr. King’s non-violence resistance methods for social change. I heard Malcolm X speak at a conference in Boston, and he said only violent resistance would bring about changes needed in America. Malcolm X was later killed by some of his disgruntled supporters, and Dr. King’s message of non-violent resistance resulted in positive changes in our nation. Dr. King called violence “counter-productive” if you want to change our world.
I weep today because the legitimate peaceful marches expressing pain over the deaths of people because of the color of their skin are taken over by violent and destructive actions. Paul reminds us not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21).
In times like these, I realize how much United Theological Seminary is needed to model God’s inclusive love for all people and to prepare more faithful and fruitful Christian pastors and leaders who invite all persons to become followers of Jesus Christ and accept his love and forgiveness.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says, “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
As followers of Jesus we need to pray that God will change the hearts of those who commit hate crimes against people of color as well as those who perform acts of violent destruction of property in our communities. I also pray for all those who are suffering today because of the loss of loved ones and loss of their livelihood through damaged businesses.
We also pray that God will give us the courage and wisdom to lead our congregations, our communities and our nation to stand up for justice and model the inclusive love of God which comes to us through the life and teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Grace and peace,
Dr. Kent Millard
United Theological Seminary