On Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009, the day following the national holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I stood in the crowd of more than one million to watch as Barack Hussein Obama took the oath of office not only as the 44th president of the United States of America, but also the nation’s first black president. While many have heralded this moment in time as the realization and fulfillment of King’s dream, we must remember that racial equality was only one dimension of King’s dream.
The country over which President Obama will preside is drowning in a sea of debt; an economic tsunami as so aptly described by Alan Greenspan. Voter registration, voter disenfranchisement and voter suppression tactics still impact a disproportionate number of minorities. Nearly 36 million people live in poverty, we have two wars raging, more than 45 million are without health care, our education system needs an overhaul, and we live under the threat of nuclear war. There are still children who wake up and go to bed hungry. Violence, gangs and guns are claiming the lives of our young at alarming rates. While it is important not to minimize the significance of what transpired on Jan. 20, it is also important to resist the temptation to declare that King’s dream has been fulfilled.
The Prophet Isaiah captured the essence of King’s challenge to embrace a revolution of values. Isaiah envisioned a redeemed social order. He prophesied about an idyllic setting where the wolf and the lamb, the leopard and the baby goat, the lion and the yearling, and the cow and the bear would live. Wild beasts and little children would play together near the hole of the cobra and the viper absolutely unafraid, and a little child will lead them. But Isaiah’s prophecy sounded unrealistic against the backdrop of exile, oppression and alienation brought on by the chosen nation’s failure to cultivate intimacy with God.
So inquiring minds want to know when will Isaiah’s prophecy and King’s dream be fulfilled? While Obama’s presidency represents a partial fulfillment of King’s dream for America, we know that Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus was the stump of Jesse who came as a baby to usher in the kingdom of God, who by the Spirit of the Lord, “ruled with wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” Jesus was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy when he gave his life for the sins of the world. Today, Jesus is seated at the right hand of God, and according to the scriptures we know that Jesus is coming back again.
Now that the euphoria of the inauguration of Obama has passed, will we open our eyes to the unfinished business that lies ahead of us? As comforting as it may be to have a “brother” in the White House, will we be among the ones who choose to sit on the sidelines of history or will we be counted among the remnant who will help President Obama to pursue a more just and equitable society? Will we continue to work toward creating what theologians call an eschatological present? Will we function as (what Dr. Forrest Harris calls) agents of reconstruction, architects of broken dreams who labor to construct an alternate view of reality that is influenced by the reign of God?
In order for that to happen, we must reconcile the wolf and the lamb, the predator and prey inside of us. When I refer to the predator and prey or the wolf and the lamb, I am referring to the inner life of every person.
- For there is a tiger within us that’s fierce and bloodthirsty for power control and domination.
- There is a wolf inside us that is crafty, covetous and destructive.
- There’s a leopard inside of us that’s waiting to pounce upon anything that looks like diversity.
- There’s a lion in us that likes to bite and devour.
- There’s a bear in us that likes to growl and intimidate others.
- There is a cobra in us that is venomous and spiteful and poisonous, calculating and waiting to strike at any moment.
Humanity is more than a beast, but it does not take a rocket scientist to see that humanity does not always function like angels. Both the wolf and the lamb are within us. When the beast within is restrained, and the angel is unleashed, then we become repairers of the breach and restorers of streets. We become trumpet-blowers for justice, righteousness, equality and inclusivity. Hallelujah amen!
Gina M. Stewart serves as pastor of Christ Missionary Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn. She was the first female to be elected as pastor of a Baptist church in Memphis. She serves as an advisory board member for The African American Pulpit, and she was a contributor to the African American Devotional Bible (Zondervan). This column is an excerpt from The Audacity of Faith: Christian Leaders Reflect on the Election of Barack Obama, which is available at Judson Press.