In the story of Martin Luther King Jr there is one story that ranks high as one of my favorites has more to do with King’s influence than his immediate presence.
After the 1956 Supreme Court ruling that began chipping away at the Jim Crow law structure via the ruling against bus segregation, there was an uproar in Montgomery, Alabama. After the initial celebration the threats and bullying efforts started up to intimidate the black community despite their new found liberty. King made a plea to his followers to continue to approaching the situation with the non-violent philosophy that had led to their legal victory.
The night after the Supreme Court decision the Ku Klux Klan began talking about attacking the black neighborhoods. King’s recounting of the situation is a beautiful example of the power openness and the rejection of fear:
Ordinarily, threats of Klan actions were a signal to the Negroes to go into their houses, close the doors, pull the shades, or turn off the lights. Fearing death, they played dead. But this time they had prepared a surprise. When the Klan arrived – according to the newspapers “about forty carloads of robed and hooded members” – porch lights were on and doors open. As the Klan drove by the Negroes behaved as thought they were watching a circus parade. Concealing the effort it cost them, many walked about as usual; some simply watched from their steps; a few waved at the passing cars. After a few blocks, the Klan, nonplussed, turned off into a side street and disappeared into the night.
– Martin Luther King Jr, “The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr.”
I was reminded, after I read this account, of a verse in Colossians 2 about Jesus’ victory over sin being based, at least in part, on His exposure of the effects and works of sin. It was not private battle, but the public,open, and exposed view of sin that robbed it of its power.
He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in [the cross].
Here, in this story from a segregated time in Montgomery, Alabama, I see the reality of this verse played out again. Bullies will cause us to hide, but courage brings us out of hiding. When shame and intimidation lose their power over us it will be because we have dared to step out of the shadows of isolation and into the open places of community. Christianity is based on a Savior who looked sin, death, evil, and even the Devil in the eye and said, “Come what may, love and sacrifice, not cowering and self-preservation, will win the day.”