“God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way; Thou who hast by thy might, Led us into the light, Keep us forever in the path, we pray.” These are the opening lines of Verse Three of James Weldon Johnson’s inspiring hymn, Lift Every Voice and Sing. As in so many churches this past Martin Luther King, Jr., weekend, we sang the hymn this Sunday in the Church of the Ridge, honoring the many civil rights heroes who struggled, as the verse ends so well, to be “true to our God, true to our native land.”
Most of our congregation was unfamiliar with this hymn; not so, for most of the congregations nationwide who sang it. I daresay that most singers of that hymn this Sunday didn’t need their hymnals at all, so familiar are its message and its tune. As Dr. King famously said in a 1960 “Meet the Press” interview, “I think it is one of the tragedies of our nation, one of the shameful tragedies, that eleven o’clock on Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours in Christian America.” Here in America 57 years later, this is still the case.
One American hero who knew and worked with Dr. King is working still, striving now as he was striving then to “keep us forever in the path” laid out by Dr. King and too many others martyred in the name of nonviolent protest. Congressman John Lewis almost became a martyr himself, marching alongside Dr. King over Selma’s Edmund Pettis Bridge in 1965. One of my personal heroes for decades, John Lewis is a man that no educated American can disparage or dishonor without himself being disparaged and dishonored even more, in the process.
And yet this happened this past weekend, following another “Meet the Press” interview. Questioning the legitimacy of the election of our new President Donald Trump, Congressman Lewis noted that Mr. Trump had lost the popular election by almost three million votes, and he won the Electoral College by the narrowest of voting margins in three Midwest states. The Congressman wondered, how many of those Midwestern voters were swayed by embarrassing campaign files “hacked” by Russian agents and selectively released? Enough to change the election results? We will never know for sure; but based on his decades of service, on his own highly ethical perspective, on his experience of the sacrifices of Dr. King and others, John Lewis expressed strong doubts about our new President. This expression was met, characteristically, by a “Tweet” from the then President Elect Trump, disparaging John Lewis as someone who talks but does not act, someone whose judgement cannot be compared with his own.
Many of us agree, that Congressman John Lewis has judgment and ethics that cannot be compared with those of President Trump. We can all be thankful that in times like these, times where so many Americans of all creeds and colors have just passionately sung a hymn made sacred by our heritage of the civil rights struggle, we are still served by John Lewis. There are few like him, but those few will help us all to remain “true to our God, true to our native land.”