Let me open with this quote from Religion Professor, Dr. Terriel Byrd, Palm Beach Atlantic University. In 2007, he wrote:
“An unsettling erosion of the gains of the Civil Rights Movement is and has been apparent for a couple of decades …
America rested on its spiritual and civic laurels as if the work of spiritual and civic restoration had been completed, and mainstream Christianity was still absent and silent on these concerns …
What did arise, however, were a cacophony of voices that exploited the rewards of the Civil Rights Movement, rather than build upon them.”
Rough remarks, but true words, even today, even among the #woke generation, even with symbolic political gains and individual successes, even after two terms of the nation’s first black president, even as we inaugurated the first woman Vice President – a black woman – we still experience the unrighteousness of racial injustice. Things have changed, but things remain the same. And, with some exceptions, mainstream Christianity continues to look the other way and cross to the other side of the proverbial street, maybe, praying things will get better by and by when we cross to that distant shore … when we all get to heaven! Yet we must remember our regular petition, “Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”
Nevertheless, this statement by Dr. Byrd addresses the lack of continuity in a movement, birthed in the church, the Black church in particular, when a Baptist Minister dared to speak truth to power. And, I daresay, the church has quieted and even lost its preaching and prophetic proclamations about social justice issues. But, in spite of it all, as groups and movements come and go, the black church remains, as in ages past, the most likely organizational force for effective social progress.
Therefore, allow me to use this brief moment to expound upon, and to apply a familiar biblical example to our times.
It is the story of Moses and Joshua. Remember, Moses led the people out of bondage but under him they never made it into the Land of Promise; they never got out of the wilderness. Instead, it would be left for Joshua to lead the people across the River Jordon, into the Promised Land.
Let us take another look, Moses freed the children, and he also gave them the freedom to dream. Joshua’s purpose was to make the dream a reality. Moses got to the mountaintop, only to see the glorious promise but never got to enter into its glory.
I am reminded of a speech made on April 3rd, 1968, by Dr. Martin Luther King. It was the day before he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.
We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop … and I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know that we as a people will get to the Promised Land. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”
Martin envisioned a better place for the people who had been enslaved and segregated, tied down and spit upon, in the wilderness of oppression. Joshua was called to take them to that place. And the Lord promised to be with Joshua, as He was with Moses. The short version of the background story – Moses had mentored the young Joshua during the wilderness journey, then the mature Joshua emerged as an Elder to lead the people across the iconic River Jordon. The application: the 20th century leadership, symbolized by Dr. King and others must make a similar transition to 21st Century leadership. Thus the question is begged – where and who are these “New Millennial Joshua’s”? And I am assured that names come to mind. But bear with me, please.
A young Senator Barack Obama, in 2007, addressed a Unity Breakfast, commemorating the Selma Voting Rights March.
“I’m here because somebody marched … I stand on the shoulders of giants. I thank the Moses generation, but we’ve got to remember now that Joshua had a job to do …
There are still battles that need to be fought; some rivers that need to be crossed … so the question, I guess, that I have … what is called of us in this Joshua generation?”
Let us take a look the black church, in particular, and we see, at least, a couple of post-Civil Rights generations that, quite frankly, have discontinued ties with the traditional church establishment; they left the church of their parents. In exit interviews the resounding pronouncements included comments like “irrelevant,” like “boring,” and “stuck.” So tragic! The black Mother Church, historic cradle of social progress, lost her babies. And what has become of these children.
They grew up, but are they fulfilling the mandates of the metaphoric Joshua generation? Have they found other assemblies to nurture themselves from which they can build bridges of progress? I am closing with questions, not answers.
In 2020, as a result of the pandemic, the church with its aging membership was forced to leave the building. We have been forced to adapt. Here we are attempting to worship and to do church in cyberspace.
What is interesting is that both Moses and Joshua generations are in the same space. Moses forced to adapt; however, this has been the hangout for Joshua for more than a decade. Can we reassemble the people on the internet, and lead us into a new reality, through virtual worship, through virtual ministry, through virtual followers and friends?
Some churches are worshipping in parking lots, truly taking their ministry to the streets. People from all walks can show up without dressing up. Might this old time way of gathering be a new style of Church assembly
We have seen and have been on the rough side of the mountain in recent times. Pandemic, Racial Unrest, Economic Collapse, Insurrection. A wilderness Experience. But we call out to you Joshua’s, wherever you are. The bridges have been built, the roads have opened. Our time is now to fulfill the dream. I think we can. I believe we can. I know we can. Yes we can!