Without endorsing any political party, I need to give a little credit to the late Congressman John Lewis.
I was an enthusiastic, up and coming, young pastor when I met John Lewis. He was visiting Georgia State University’s campus. Several ‘young leaders’ were invited to meet with him, and as a twenty-one-year-old, freshly ordained minister, I was among the select. He spoke for a few minutes about the struggles of his past and the then present condition of our world. Afterward, he entertained our questions. A fellow student—seated behind me—raised his hand, “Congressman Lewis, your generation marched, held sit-ins, and went to prison to bring about justice. How can we as young leaders make a statement in our world today?” Congressman Lewis answered…and I wrote. His words are written in the front of my college Bible. Some of you have heard me repeat some version of it over the years. He said,
“You don’t need to make a statement in the world. You need to make a difference in the world. I don’t need you in the streets or in a jail cell as badly as I need you on corporate boards, in the fabric of industry and arts, at your HOA meetings, eating lunch with the up-and-in, playing golf at the country club, and using your influence with business owners and institutional leaders. Making a statement is important. Everything we do for justice is important, but what I really need you to do is use your influence to make a difference. Even if no one ever sees you or no one ever notices.”
Those words helped shape the path of my ministry. I’ve quietly held those words in my heart and glanced at them in my Bible over the years. I remembered them the day our church issued a consensus statement on the welcoming of all people into the full practice of faith. I remembered them the day I was called and informed I had received the Calder Ehrmann Diversity Leadership Award. I remembered them as the voice on the other side of the telephone told me that I had been named to the Martin Luther King College of Preachers by Morehouse College for my work in civil rights. I remembered them as I sat at the Tribecca Film Festival and watched First Baptist Greenville appear on the screen. I remembered them when the Peace Center premiered the film ‘Gay Chorus, Deep South’ and later invited the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus for a return visit to Greenville. I remembered them as I stood at the National AIDS Memorial in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park and saw First Baptist Greenville etched in stone there. I remembered them when the leadership of Springfield Baptist Church sat in my condo—eating beef stew and cornbread—planning our next joint venture. I remember them every time I receive an email from someone who has found their way back to faith because ‘….First Baptist Greenville is not like any church I’ve attended before…’
“You don’t need to make a statement in the world. You need to make a difference in the world.” Rest in Peace, John Lewis…and thank you.