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  • Writer's pictureW. Todd Pascoe

Act Justly, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly

On December 1, 1955, 42-year-old Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing the bus driver’s order to give up her seat to a white man. This sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott and ended with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that segregation on public buses is unconstitutional[i]. Martin Luther King Jr. recalled in his memoir that “Mrs. Parks was ideal for the role assigned to her by history,” and because “her character was impeccable and her dedication deep-rooted” she was “one of the most respected people in the Negro community” (King, 44)[ii]

On March 7, 1965, 25-year-old John Lewis co-led more than 600 unarmed mostly black marchers from the Brown Chapel African Methodist Episclopal (AME) Church six blocks onto the Edmund Pettus Bridge. As they crested the top of the bridge Lewis saw State Troopers and a posse of deputies lined across Highway 80 blocking their way. “We should kneel and pray” Lewis said and before they could they heard “Troopers advance!”.

As John Lewis described it, “They came with all types of force, beating us with nightsticks, trampling us with horses. I was the first person to be hit. My feet, my legs went from under me. I was knocked down.” The Troopers then ignited tear gas. Later Lewis, with a fractured skull addressed the chaotic crowd reunited inside the Church before being taken to Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) Hospital where he was admitted along with twelve other marchers, while forty-eight more were treated and released[iii]. This media was on hand to cover the march which contributed to public support for the Voting Rights Act signed into law on August 6, 1965. The new law outlawed the discriminatory voting practices adopted in many southern states after the Civil War, including literacy tests as a prerequisite to voting.[iv]

Bryan Stevenson “one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time wrote Just Mercy, an unforgettable true story about the redeeming potential of mercy. As a young attorney, he “founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending the poor, the wrongly condemned, and those trapped in the further reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man sentenced to die for a notorious murder he didn’t commit. The case drew Stevenson into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.”[v] McMillian was convicted in Alabama where nearly 65% of homicide victims are black but 80% of death row inmates killed a white person.

Rosa Parks believed and said, “God is everything to me.”[vi];

John Lewis believed and said, “Many of us that got caught up and involved in the civil rights movement saw our involvement as an extension of our faith… Without our faith, without the spirit and spiritual bearings and underpinning, we would not have been so successful. Without prayer, without faith in the Almighty, the civil rights movement would have been like a bird without wings.”—John Lewis, 2004 PBS interview

Bryan Stevenson believes in Christ and echoes his Matthew 25:31-46 sentiments when he said, “The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.[vii]

The Alabama plate honors the history these Christians fought against: Sweet Home Alabama, a song by Lynyrd Skynyrd who played before a Confederate Flag until 2012. Their popular song released in 1974 is considered by some as the unofficial National Anthem of the South. Alabama plates contain a heart surrounding the words “Heart of Dixie” which pays homage to the antebellum (pre-civil war south). “Tags with the slogan were released in Alabama in 1955, not long after the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous Brown v. Board of Education ruling that the racial segregation of children was unconstitutional.”[viii] In 2023 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Alabama’s congressional maps violated the Voting Rights Act by concentrating blacks in a single congressional district and thus dilute their influence.[ix]

Blood v. Crip; Norteña v. Sereno, prisons literally segregate inmates by gang affiliation. The slavery issue split Christian denominations, Methodist and Southern Methodist in 1844, and Baptist and Southern Baptist (1845) before the South seceded in 1861 resulting in the Civil War (1861-1865)[x]. It ought not be so, Christ prayed for unity of his followers (John 17) and yet it’s been said the worship hour is one of the most segregated hours in America. Pew Research found the Seventh-day Adventist church is the most racially diverse in America.[xi] Christ commands us to love one another (John 13:34), so strive in your community to break down barriers God never intended and you’ll be better prepared for heaven where the Apostle John describes what he saw in vision,: 9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Revelation 7:9-10. Also Consider Galatians 3:28 where Paul tells us, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

One Christmas, Harper Lee received a gift of a year’s salary with a note inviting her to write for a year. She turned that year into To Kill A Mockingbird[xii] that covers 3 years of a young girl’s life in small town Alabama. The members of Tom Robinson’s (accused) church and Atticus Finch (defense attorney) serve as models for Christians whose faith leads them not to abandon this world, but to serve their neighbors. C. S. Lewis describes this kind of faith in Mere Christianity:

If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English evangelicals who abolished the slave trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”: aim at earth and you will get neither.[xiii]

Sincerely, W. Todd Pascoe

[i] SCOTUS upheld Browder v. Gayle, 142 F. Supp. 707 (M.D. Ala. 1956); [ii] accessed 7.1.2023 [iii]Jon Meacham, His Truth is Marching On, p. 195-201, Random House (2020). [iv],as%20a%20prerequisite%20to%20voting. Accessed 7.29.2023 [v] Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy back cover, Spiegel & Grau (2014). This is a great book I highly recommend and one I assigned my students each year I taught street law at Columbia Adventist Academy (2017-2022, though didn’t teach 2021 due to pandemic). [vi],Richard%20Allen%2C%20a%20former%20slave. Accessed 7.29.2023 [vii] [viii],license%20plates%20display%20the%20term. Accessed 7.29.2023 [ix] accessed 7.29.23 [x]And There Was Light, p. 60, Random House (2022). [xi] 37% of adults who identify as Seventh-day Adventists are white, while 32% are black, 15% are Hispanic, 8% are Asian and another 8% are another race or mixed race. Accessed 7.30.2023. I experienced this first-hand my junior year of high school when I attended Takoma Academy in Maryland, ten minutes from the D.C. line and the school had a near even number of black, southeast Asian (Indian), and white students. My three closest friends that year were white (Carl Schneider), Indian (Sureka Khandagle), and black (Ron Dorsey). [xii] As a lawyer dad, I read this to my daughter, for our nightly bedtime stories when she was 12 years old and was rewarded when traveling in California’s Columbia State Historic Park on 11.21.2016, she enthused, “just like Boo Radley’s house, all the blinds are shut and the roof is coming off, Boo Radley, Boo Radley’s house”. [xiii] accessed 7.29.2023

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