To Let The Oppressed Go Free

Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking out for freedom.“Is this not the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?”

I’m studying Isaiah 58 right now. These are the words of the Lord spoken through his prophet. (That’s what prophets do, you know.)

This week is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington where Martin Luther King, Jr., caught up in the Spirit, deviated somewhat from his prepared text and spoke about his dream. A dream where people were judged on character, not on skin color.

I was only a kid, living in a small village where everyone was either of German or Irish descent (read “white”)–well, except for one “hillbilly” family that moved in, and they were white. I never knew a black person until I was in college.

But for some reason, I was haunted by images of Ku Klux Klan cross burnings and murders. I can still remember nightmares that there was a local branch (don’t think there ever was–we didn’t have black people, but we did have a secret society of which my dad was a member called the Masons). I feared that they found out that I was pro civil rights and surrounded our house.

Later while I was in college, I endured much teasing about my civil rights stance (I still lived in town and drove 40 miles each way to college to save money since I was now mostly paying my own way). I remember driving through Mississippi to Louisiana in 1970 when I entered graduate school at LSU. Had an equal rights decal on my car. Arrived and then had the thought, what if my car had stopped in the piney woods? Still, I’m white. Not as bad as if I were not.

Progress toward freedom

There has been a lot of progress over the last 50 years. Like all human social change, there were cycles of success and cycles of regress. Many things are better for people of different colors, ethnicities, even gender. Many people have been set free. The leadership of Christians was an example to me that maybe the Christian church wasn’t all bad.

But we still have far to go.

Jesus understood. As have many spiritual people throughout human history. That passage from Isaiah is probably 2,800 years old. Yet, until we all change our hearts and begin to truly worship the one God, then we will not have the justice God demanded so long ago.

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