Dr. Jamie Jenkins: Thoughts on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

In Christ's Family There Can Be No Division

I grew up in L.A. - Lower Alabama- in a racially mixed neighborhood of working class poor folks.

During my childhood and adolescent years I had friends that were African-American, but that was not the term used back then. We played together daily but that was the extent of our social interaction with each other. We did not visit in the homes of our playmates with different skin pigment. We did not worship nor eat meals together. Integration of public schools in Mobile did not come until after I had graduated from high school so we did not attend classes together.

I remember separate "white" and "colored" facilities. I was taught to respect everyone but I was aware that each person had their "place."

My family did not have a cook, maid, driver, or nanny. Although we were white, we were more like the low-income "servant" class. People were never impressed with my answer to the question, "Who are your people?" Although I am of the "privileged majority," I remember experiencing discrimination as I grew up.

I do not equate my experiences with those of racial minorities. But prejudice simply means to pre-judge someone without regard for the merit of that individual. It is painful to be assessed according to your level of income, education, appearance or physical surroundings.

I was 32 when I left my home town of Mobile and traveled to New York state. I soon discovered that racism and other forms of prejudice were just as prevalent there and in other areas of the northeastern United States as they were back home in the Deep South.

During my years as a student at Elim Bible Institute near Rochester, NY I lived and worked with people from all over this continent and many countries across the globe. I had roommates, classmates, and friends that were black, Hispanic, and many other ethnicities. The community of that small student body and faculty represented a broad range of racial, cultural, economic, and academic diversity. It was incredible!

I could have learned the lesson anywhere. I did not have to live through five winters in western New York to come to this life-changing realization. But it was in that context that I came to understand that every individual, including me, is a unique creation of God. That one fact alone gives worth and value beyond any measure.

Bishop Watson recently received a packet of letters written by the members of the Hope for Africa Children's Choir. One 12 year-old wrote that she had learned that everyone is important no matter who they are. Let us celebrate this truth and work to see that everyone everywhere understands and experiences the reality it points to.

Together we can create a society in which people will be "judged on the content of their character and not the color of their skin" or any of the other things that often separate us. With God's help we can make that dream a reality. The Apostle Paul reminds us that "In Christ's family there can be no division ...we are all equal" (Galatians 3:28-29). It won't be easy but I believe it is possible! Don't you?

Jamie Jenkins

[Taken with permission from "Monday Morning in North Georgia," the newsletter of the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church.]