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Even if art doesn’t imitate life, it most assuredly gives us a better vocabulary for how to say something. I have always been envious of the poets and songwriters, as they can do in four minutes what it takes the preacher a half-hour – or the writer 800 words – to do.

One of my life anthems is taken from “Ragtime” – a soaring musical about the American experience in the early 20th century as it was colored by unprecedented growth and unparalleled bigotry.

The protagonist, a successful black piano player named Coalhouse Walker Jr., sets off a revolt after his wife is shot and killed by police for trying to shake hands with then President Teddy Roosevelt. At the end of the play, just before his last stand, he sings the song “Make Them Hear You,” which contains the following lines:

Go out and tell the story.
Let it echo far and wide.
Make them hear you.
Make them hear you.

How that justice was our battle 
And how justice was denied.
Make them hear you.
Make them hear you.

And say to those who blame us
For the way we chose to fight
That sometimes there are battles
Which are more than black or white.

Some friends came over to our house last week. They asked if we had seen the news the night before where Druid Hills Baptist Church was being disfellowshipped from the Georgia Baptist Convention because the church has a female co-pastor.

Not only had we seen the news, but we knew the couple well. Graham and Mimi Walker have not only been seminary professors and instructors to me, but people who have shaped the way I and countless other graduates of McAfee School of Theology carry out the work of ministry. They are missionaries and mentors, professors and counselors. They are among God’s best examples of what a life of shared ministry could look like.

Our friends continued to say how shocked they were by the GBC’s decision to sever ties with Druid Hills over something that had, in their own reading of Scripture, no consistent biblical support.

When speaking earlier with another colleague about the GBC’s decision, he mentioned that some had asked him “Why doesn’t Druid Hills sever ties themselves? If the GBC thinks women should not serve in ministry, then why would Druid Hills want anything to do with them anyway?”

My colleague’s question echoed the sentiment others have expressed over an ongoing conflict in the Baptist General Convention of Texas as Royal Lane Baptist Church has gone public in its affirmation of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons and has declared on its Web site and printed materials that all are welcome at God’s table. Though the issues are different, both ask the same question: “Why not sever the ties yourself?” or, as teenagers say, “Break up with him before he breaks up with you.”

I cannot answer that question, but I would like to suggest that perhaps it is because something quite bigger is at stake. When asked why she sat down on that fateful Montgomery bus, civil-rights icon Rosa Parks said, “I sat down because I was tired.”

Like all truth statements, that line reverberates on a hundred different levels. The lunch counter sit-ins, marches and rallies that continued across the country over the next several years forced a society to confront the darker side of its history and to acknowledge in the press that which was held only as an open secret. Were it not for the work of those who were willing to withstand scorn and public ridicule, America would never have seen her own hypocrisy as an alleged democracy undone by a legacy of white supremacy and oppression.

It would doubtless have been easier for Parks to have taken her seat in the back of that bus or for bright young African-Americans to have found other lunch counters. It would have been easier, but it would not have been just.

If Druid Hills Baptist Church had decided, as others have, to proactively dissociate themselves from the Georgia Baptist Convention, they certainly could have done so. That decision could have led to an impressive public statement and a new press release for their Web site, and perhaps some requisite coverage in denominational journals.

It would not, however, have been featured on the evening news, discussed on one of the nation’s largest market radio networks or featured prominently in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It would have gone unnoticed by our church friends who come from faithful Southern Baptist stock. They would not have known, and perhaps would not have considered, that such a thing was happening – that there were still many of their own self-identified clan who felt that half the population is unfit for full service in God’s church.

The last stanza of Coalhouse Walker’s aria captures this sentiment better than a thousand words I could write.

Go out and tell our story
To your daughters and your sons.
Make them hear you.
Make them hear you.

Your sword can be a sermon
Or the power of the pen.
Teach every child to raise his voice
And then, my brothers, then

Will justice be demanded
By ten million righteous men.

Make them hear you.
When they hear you
I’ll be near you again.

Justice will never come easy or on its own. It is the work of the people of God to fight for it, strive for it, wrestle it away from those who claim it for their own sense of power and rightness. But if we teach our children – if we maintain fellowship with all who would share a table with us, if we use the sword of the sermon and the power of the pen – then maybe, maybe those beyond the reach will hear us.

Trey Lyon is associate pastor for faith development at Towne View Baptist Church in Kennesaw, Ga. This column appeared previously on his blog.

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