Rev. Dr. Joseph Evans, Dean of Morehouse School of Religion, asked the crowd gathered at the New Baptist Covenant in Atlanta, GA, "Are you children of Atticus Finch?" The question hung in the room for a moment as Dr. Evans eloquently detailed the history behind Harper Lee's masterpiece, To Kill A Mockingbird. Dr. Evans' question has been rattling in my mind ever since he asked it. It's a question not only for each of us to ponder, but a question that should be posed to the church.
The brilliance behind Lee's novel was her ability to contrast the Old South with an emerging New South through the eyes of Atticus' children. Jim and Scout witnessed and experienced the deep wounds of the Old South, both racial injustice and economic inequality. Through eyes of innocence and purity, Atticus' children struggled with racist attitudes and unjust actions towards the black community. In addition, and ever so subtly, Lee also points to how poverty mixed with a claim of superiority can lead to hatred and resentment. In a literary stroke of genius, Lee demonstrated America's deep division through the untainted eyes of Southern children.
The New Baptist Covenant is a challenge by former President, and current Baptist layman, Jimmy Carter. Carter's plan is to offer opportunities for people of faith from different cultures to practice reconciliation. By committing to what is being called a "Covenant Action," pastors, churches, and laypeople are partnering to bring together the Beloved Community. The New Baptist Covenant is moving into a new phase of rolling up their sleeves and working alongside one another to address racial, social, and economic issues in their communities.
Just as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed long ago on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, there remains the dream that white children, black children, brown children, and all children can worship and serve the Lord together as one body. America has a deep, dark past, where the need for reconciliation is more than just an apology. Reconciliation is a process of repentance, forgives, and justice. So as we now begin to work together for this divine purpose of Christian unity, let the children of Atticus Finch rise up to repent of our cultural sins, seek forgiveness for those we have harmed, and implement justice so that all can live the dream.