John Lewis, civil rights leader and Democratic Congressman from Georgia, passed Friday, July 17, 2020. Lewis was one of ten children of a sharecropper in Alabama when state power enforced white supremacy in the American South. He dreamed of being a preacher, but had a political awakening over civil rights while attending American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville. He led the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and in the early 1960s became the most prominent young leader of the civil-rights movement that broke Jim Crow. Nonviolent protests built moral authority and widespread political support for the movement that triumphed in the mid-1960s with the help of federal law and enforcement authority. Legal segregation and black political exclusion were defeated with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The arc of Lewis’s life and career shows how much the South and America have changed. Born into a world of segregated schools and lunch counters, Lewis became a political activist and in 1986 won election to Congress from Georgia. He never gave up his belief in nonviolence, despite the violence used against him. He never lost faith in the capacity of American democracy, despite its flaws, to strive for a more perfect union (WSJ-7/20/20). John Lewis’s faith and determination to live it out has impacted several generations. He did what was right in life and helped our nation walk closer to the central principle of the Declaration of Independence, that “all men are created equal.”
God said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why do you look so despondent? Don’t you know that as long as you do what is right, then I accept you? But if you do not do what is right, watch out, because sin is crouching at the door, ready to pounce on you. You must master it before it masters you.” – Genesis 4:6-7. “…sin is crouching at the door” indeed, usually stirring up anger over something. The perspective Jesus offered from the cross – “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) – was one of recognizing the devil’s scheme to stir up chaos in relatively short order. He saw beyond the battle that put Him on the cross to the spiritual warfare that He came to face. As a nation, the United States has faced a lot of battles. Arguably it is because the Founding Fathers set such high standards – “…that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Imperfect men working to achieve this standard cannot produce a perfect union. Yet the charge is to do what is right – individually to be more Christ-like and corporately to be a more perfect union.
I would call John Lewis a modern-day Peter Damian. Damian was an eleventh century Benedictine reformer identified as an “impossible man” by those caught up in the culture of his day. While Damian held the Church accountable for the standard set by Jesus, Lewis worked to hold his nation accountable to the standard set by the Founders. Today, dads are called to step up as impossible men, to do what is right - to hold ourselves, our churches and our nation accountable under the Word of God. The charge is to master sin before it masters us, to live a life focused on the Father that glorifies the Father.
Prayer guide: Thank You Lord for Your word and for Your example. I confess that anger percolates up pretty quickly these days. I have allowed the culture to master me more than I have mastered the culture. Forgive me. Strengthen me to do what is right – to walk closer to You and hold myself, my church and my nation accountable under Your Word. That is the dad You call me to be, and that’s the dad the next generation needs. Amen.
A faithful father does what is right in life to master sin individually and corporately.