This year we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War. It was one of the great tragedies in American history -- brother set against brother. More than 600,000 Americans were killed.
But looked at in the longer perspective of history, the Civil War was a necessary moral corrective to help abolish the naked evil of slavery.
Of course, for at least 100 years after the war, America’s record on race relations and civil rights was, at best, checkered. But over the last 40 to 50 years, we’ve seen extraordinary progress in racial reconciliation.
I just had a great illustration of this on Easter weekend during a prison visit in Alabama. It was one of the great weekends of my ministry, because I saw God’s vision for Prison Fellowship in a new and exciting light. What is happening in the prisons of that state is extraordinary.
On Saturday night of Easter weekend, we had a dinner for our supporters in the Birmingham area down the road from the jail where Martin Luther King, Jr., penned his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, one of the great documents of the 20th century -- and one of the great Christians works on justice ever written.
So, just a few miles from where that letter was written, 200 of us gathered, all committed to the vision of taking the Gospel to the least of these in our society. As I stood at the podium to give the main address that night, I was struck by the realization that half the crowd was black and half was white -- but they were one in Christ.
I looked at the front row and there, smiling, was Deborah McBride Daniels, Prison Fellowship’s Area Director for Alabama. Deborah, who is black, is a former crack addict and an ex-prisoner -- and now one of our best area directors. You can read her amazing testimony at PrisonFellowship.org.
Two tables away sat Drayton Nabors, a strong Christian layman, and former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. Drayton, who is white, is one of the most influential men in the state.
I cannot tell you how moved I was by seeing Deborah Daniels and former Justice Drayton Nabors, working together to bring hope to the most marginalized people in our society, doing it across racial barriers, economic barriers, educational barriers -- across all things that divide us into categories in America.
And on Easter Sunday morning in prison, I saw Deborah and Drayton greet one another with a warm embrace in front of all those inmates. Think about the message that this was to the inmates on Resurrection Sunday. Christ on the cross took away the sins of the world and reconciled us to God and to one another. There is hope.
That’s why I came away from that weekend renewed in my conviction that Prison Fellowship is God’s movement, and that God is accomplishing far more than just evangelizing prisoners. We are seeing a powerful demonstration of how the Gospel and only the Gospel can heal a fractured and divided society.
So as you commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, don’t miss the fact that God is in the business of healing the wounds of division. For that we give Him all the praise.