Difficult changes, divided loyalties … still one Body

There have been such divisions in the African-American community about “The Help,” which we just saw tonight. Some are unhappy it depicts African-American women who are fearful and subservient when many others were taking great risks to gain civil rights. Some suggest it just represents one white woman’s perspective on the few African-Americans she knew — to the extent they allowed her to know them.

Every time of great political change comes with difficult discussions and divided allegiances. Near where I live in North Carolina, a turning-point battle of the Revolutionary War was fought: the Battle of Kings Mountain. The battle was fought mostly between Americans loyal to the crown and American revolutionists. It was concluded in just over an hour. Once ended, the Loyalists who survived and were taken prisoner were somehow “lost” and returned to their own homes, as did the revolutionists.

We forget, sometimes, that our own revolution was our first civil war.

We want to imagine that everyone could always see the one right answer to every difficult question of politics and human rights. But God reminds us that we see unclearly:

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (First Corinthians 13: 12)

And so it is important to listen to the stories of those that don’t resonate with what we ourselves want to hear. Why might these women have been afraid? Why would they have allowed themselves to be passed along as part of an inheritance … as if, in the 1950s and 1960s, they were still property … As if they were still slaves?

Earlier this week, I heard NCCU Head Basketball Coach LeVelle Moton speak before an audience of mostly African-American youth and he encouraged them to see “The Help.”

“When I left the theater,” he said, “I went home and cried like a baby because when I heard those women speaking, I heard my grandmother.” And he urged the young people to remember that what opportunities they have today were hard-won by those who came before … to see the movie and understand just how much their parents and grandparents suffered for their sakes.

Moton’s grandmother, now deceased, would have been a little older than the white lady friend I visited with a couple weeks ago.

During the lunch counter sit-ins of the late 1950s, my friend was a student at one of North Carolina’s all-women’s colleges. And as soon as black students began to be arrested at a lunch counter downtown, she realized: if she and some of her classmates sat with them, the police wouldn’t touch them. They wouldn’t dare to touch a Salem College girl.

So a group of lovely young ladies from the all-white girls college began settling in at the lunch counter next to the Negroes. They couldn’t get served, but they didn’t get arrested, either. None of them.

Often, we have been divided about important political issues. And often we have stood together. Often we have failed to listen well enough to hear the Spirit of God whispering in another’s voice. Often we have spoken too loudly, too cruelly, too angrily, too vengefully, too spitefully, too proudly, for the Spirit of God to whisper through our voices.

Might this not be a new time of war among us … might we learn to listen and to care.

Are we headed inevitably to a political meltdown now or do you think there’s a way out of the current mess?


About Carlene Byron

Writer, editor, publicist, communications project manager ... I've written technology and infrastructure; I used to edit New England Church Life and The New England Christian and I've freelanced to publications ranging from Commonweal to Christianity Today. I'm now living in my hometown in Maine and am speaking about global perspectives on suicide prevention.
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