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All God's Children II

Updated: Dec 30, 2019

In the previous post, we divided each social, religious and ethnic group into 3 categories of how they interact with outsiders.

Let's consider how this breakdown works in the two main groups that Dr King was attempting to influence -- the white and black communities. How would each of the 3 sub-groups of each race respond to his vision of joining hands with people of other races? And approximately how large is each sub-group? These percentages, referring to the early 1960's, are purely speculative.

a. White Bridge -- 20%

Wall -- 40%

Apathy -- 40%

b. Black Bridge -- 40%

Wall -- 30%

Apathy -- 30%

What this hypothetical breakdown depicts is that only 1 in 5 white people was willing to develop cooperative relationships with blacks, while 2 of 5 were adamantly opposed to equality and integration, and the remainder were apathetic. Apathetics may have had personal beliefs that were racist in nature, but they were not motivated enough to express these beliefs by removing children from integrated schools, or quitting their job rather than work with black employees, etc. They submitted to equality in public spaces out of conformity, not conviction. Other Apathetics may have been non-racist in their attitudes, but never did anything personally to support equality. If they had believed in and acted on principles of integration, they would have been Bridge-Builders.

For the black community, I have speculated that 2 out of 5 people were willing to relate positively to whites. These would be many of the followers and allies of Dr KIng. The Wall-Builders would be those who believed that white society was thoroughly corrupt and inherently racist. Their objective was "Burn Baby Burn." And then there were no doubt a large number of people who were just trying to get by, who didn't want to get swept up into the violence and riots, but did not share Dr King's hope that America could be reshaped into a society of equality and opportunity.

Where social reformers go wrong is treating all members of one group as unified. "If only white people would....", "If only Baptists would..." This approach is doomed to fail from the getgo. Any proposal or action based on an appeal to the majority of a group is going to fail unless it coincides with the obvious self-interest of that group. But where a moral value is involved, a principle that involves action, commitment, and even sacrifice, the only chance of a positive reception is with the Bridge-Builders subgroup. Trying to reach across racial or religious boundaries to the "common man" or "woman" of the opposition is to invite rejection and hostility. What really needs to happen is that the Bridge-Builders of one group first identify their corresponding members in the target group, and focus the dialogue on them.

This means that only a minority of each community is involved in building positive relationships with others. And these relationships may be formed against a backdrop of opposition...from the other two subgroups, who may very likely turn on their own Bridge-Builders as compromisers, "race-mixers," or apostates -- because they are cooperating with, or at least talking to, "the enemy." Koinonia Farm, an inter-racial cooperative started in 1942 in Georgia, is an example of this type of positive collaboration undertaken in the face of public rejection and hostility.

It is in this context that Dr KIng's dream can be made practical. A universalistic approach which forces everyone to tolerate everyone else, as is attempted through government statutes, is not able to generate heart-felt unity and common purpose. But if some individuals in each community identify themselves as Bridge-Builders, and link up with other Bridge-Builders of their own group, they can then reach out to other like-minded people of other groups.

This comes at a cost: one does not become a Bridge-Builder by accident, or by default. It is a decision about what one believes is right, and what one believes God wants, and then following through with it. It means a lessening of ties to one's own clan, because we move from being inward-looking, to an outward focus. It doesn't mean selling out to alien beliefs and strange ideas, but it means working through issues with people that are not like us. And this very effort, this willingness to listen, learn and cooperate, to draw the circle larger...this is to be one of God's children mentioned by Martin Luther King. It is only these people who can effect positive change in history.

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