Jubilee Dreaming: The persistence of racial injustice?

April 23, 2013

Post Written by Rev Ben Gooley

2013 marks the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s immortal “I Have a Dream” speech (text/audio). He spoke one hundred years after America’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, lamenting that a century on, “the Negro still is not free”.

Fifty years is a long time for an individual, even if it’s not necessarily so long for a society. As an “under 50”, I find it hard to fathom that as Luther King wrote and spoke, those of colour and those who were white were in many places segregated, separated and estranged for no other reason than this mere racial divide.

I speak as an Australian, whose nation’s history of racial injustice is different from that of America. We do not have the same history of slavery, yet our cultural baggage as a nation is in many ways no less stark. I find it hard to fathom that indigenous Australians only received the vote in Federal Elections in 1962. Yet fifty-one years on, racial inequalities persist in our nation and some appear to be worsening. Government and NGO programs for social justice such as Close the Gap are seeking to understand, address and reverse the significant inequalities that continue to plague our nation.

A key element of the gospel perspective on races and nationalism is given voice in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. This letter is in large part concerned with the question of how the racial divide between Jews and Gentiles is recast by the gospel framework. In the letter, Paul famously exclaims that in Christ Jesus there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, for all are one body (Gal 3:28). Paul’s concern was largely theological, as he tackled the legalistic shackles of the circumcision group. Yet that does not lessen the reality of the breaking down of the racial dividing wall. He concludes towards the end of the letter:

“Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Gal 6:9-10)

In biblical symbolism, fifty years is an important period. The Year of Jubilee described in Leviticus 25:10 describes the fiftieth year as a time when property sold through poverty and indentured slaves are returned to their original owners and their families. Fifty years on from Martin Luther King’s Dreaming is an excellent opportunity to reflect on the significant progress that has been wrought, and the significant problems hurdles which remain.

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