By Pastor Devin Strong
Spirit of Peace Lutheran Church
The country observed Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday on January 16th this year. For those of us under the age of 60, Dr. King is a towering historical figure. We have read about him in school; we have seen the clips of his speeches; maybe we even read Letters from a Birmingham Jail, but we were never conscious of him as a living human being.
That changed for me a few years ago when I was blessed to serve as the Interim Pastor at Messiah Lutheran Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Among the many wonderful members of that congregation were Bob and Jeanie Graetz. Back in the day, Pastor Bob Graetz, a white clergyman, served Trinity Lutheran Church. He was a neighbor to Rosa Parks and worked side by side with Martin Luther King on board of the Montgomery Improvement Association and during the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-56. Near the end of their lives for more than a year, I had the privilege of bringing Bob and Jeanie Communion and the honor of learning from them.
More than just a contemporary of King, Graetz was a partner. Numerous people told me that if you see one white guy in a picture with Martin Luther King, it’s probably Pastor Bob. To many white people, he was a traitor. The Graetz’s home was fire-bombed twice—once when their newborn son was just home from the hospital. Still, Bob Graetz was not deterred. For a full year, he was the constant chauffer for black citizens who needed to get to work, the store, and the doctor without the bus system. In Lutheran circles, Pastor Graetz is a hero of the Civil Rights Movement.
On the other hand, he was just a young pastor in a messy situation trying to do the right thing. I wonder if a generation or two from now, Cassidy Hutchinson, special assistant to then-President Trump and aide to Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, will be viewed in a similar light. Whoa! This column just went from being a nice, historical remembrance to decidedly political article, and lots of people—maybe up to 50%--reading this are offended that I would mention a current political scandal in the same light as the fight for Civil Rights.
But that’s the point. At the time Dr. King and Pastor Graetz had no idea if they would be viewed as heroes or villains, and for a long time the reviews were decidedly mixed. King was criticized even by sympathetic whites for moving too quickly and by blacks for not moving quickly enough. Likewise, Cassidy Hutchinson is a 26-year-old former White House Staffer who told the January 6th Select Committee what she saw, heard, and what she believes to be true. Americans have yet to come to consensus around the meaning of January 6, 2021.
This is the nature of acts of conscience. It would be a whole lot easier to stand out from the crowd if we knew at the time that we would be hailed as heroes for doing so, but we don’t, and often the judgements of history are a long time in coming. The best that we can do is summon our courage to make sure that our hands and our feet match our core beliefs. As Christians, we act in our best understanding of what Jesus would want us to do in the moment.
Thank God Martin Luther King had the fortitude to do just that.
God Love You, and So Do I!
Pastor Devin Strong