My wife and I watched Selma last weekend. It's a film about Martin Luther King Jnr leading a march from the Alabama town of Selma to the state capital, Montgomery, to protest against black people being discriminated against when they came to register to vote. It is a powerful bit of cinema and well worth seeing. It reminded me of a number of disturbing truths:
1. The ability of the human heart to harbour hatred and prejudice.
It was shocking to see the level of unprovoked violence meted out by the State Troopers on the protesters. This wasn't fiction. This was the United States of America in the second half of the 20th century. And men in uniform were beating defenceless women with truncheons on the orders of the local government.
The same thing goes on today. The situation may be better in America, but across the world people are brutally assaulted by other people for no reason than the colour of their skin or the religion they follow.
2. The power of the media.
What made the difference to both the behaviour of the authorities and the success of the protests was whether there would be pictures broadcast across the world as a result. When the reporters weren't present the violence was worse.
The turning point of the campaign was "Bloody Sunday", March 7th 1965. On that day the initial marchers were charged by state troopers who systematically and brutally beat them, causing life threatening injuries to some. But the difference wasn't the scale of the violence, it was that it was done in front of newspaper and television cameras. Police officers were pictured striking women as they lay on the ground.
In the end it wasn't principle that won the day, but the fear of public opinion. The marches were a success because they were so brutally opposed.
The Bible says that there is one opinion that should matter to us more than any other. The opinion of our Lord in heaven. He is the one who judges people justly. Therefore, every moment of every day our behaviour matters. Because he sees it. or as 1 Peter 1:17 puts it:
"Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear."
But the most uncomfortable truth that the film exposed was the cowardice of my own heart.
3. The willingness of people to suffer for what they value.
The protest movement was non-violent. Some might argue that this was a very astute decision, because it meant that those who used force against them always looked bad. However, non-violence was a principle that came from the Christian faith of the majority of those who led the black right's movement. They protested peacefully because that is what they believed that the Lord Jesus called them to do.
So they went out and marched, even though they were shouted at, spat upon, beaten and in some cases killed. The film shows the death of both black and white protesters.
And then, once they were patched up, they went out and marched again.
They suffered because the right to vote was so precious to them. They were willing to risk their lives for the sake of a principle they believed in.
And I won't even risk a few moments of rejection for the sake of telling people about the Lord Jesus who I believe in.
I neither care for His honour...
Nor love the lost...
Nor believe the gospel wholeheartedly enough...
...to be willing to speak of Christ to the people I chat to in the street or sit next to on the train or exchange pleasantries with in the shops. It's not even like I have experienced much rejection. I'm just afraid that I might.
In Selma in 1965 men and women of all races and backgrounds came together to march in the face of extreme hatred and physical violence just so they could vote.
I wonder what we could achieve as Christians if we would be as committed to sharing Christ today. I'm going to start praying that I would. What about you?