The Birth Of A New Nation introduced me to the story of Kwame Nkrumah (KWAH-me en-KROO-muh), a native of the colony that would become Ghana and a child of two illiterate parents. Nkrumah worked his way to the US; put himself through college working as a dishwasher and a bellhop. He then returned home to lead nonviolent protests which resulted first in his imprisonment and ultimately in the freeing of his nation from British colonialism. I have a new hero.
Powerfully, King praised the righteousness of nonviolent protest, and how it wins hearts instead of battles, though he promised that no oppressor ever voluntarily gives freedom to the oppressed. King promised that any nonviolent protest must expect some violent opposition. Referencing the story of Israel’s Exodus he observed that when you leave Egypt, you have to face a wilderness. The whole time he kept reminding me of Jesus telling his disciples that following him would mean facing persecution.
King also spoke very critically of the Church of England, and though he pulled no punches he quickly moved past criticism to praise God that inaction on the part of a church can never mean inactivity on God’s part. The following excerpt is long for a quote, but I copied it by hand into my notebook because of how deeply empowering I found it. I hope it empowers you.
“I thought of many things. I thought of the fact that the British Empire exploited India. Think about it! A nation with four hundred million people and the British exploited them so much that out of a population of four hundred million, three hundred and fifty million made an annual income of less than fifty dollars a year. Twenty-five of that had to be used for taxes and the other things of life. I thought about dark Africa, and how the people there, if they can make a hundred dollars a year they are living very well, they think. Two shillings a day—one shilling is fourteen cents, two shillings, twenty-eight cents—that’s a good wage. That’s because of the domination of the British Empire. All of these things came to my mind, and when I stood there in Westminster Abbey with all of its beauty, and I thought about all of the beautiful hymns and anthems that the people would go in there to sing. And yet the Church of England never took a stand against this system. The Church of England sanctioned it The Church of England gave it moral stature. All of the exploitation perpetuated by the British Empire was sanctioned by the Church of England. But something else came to my mind: God comes in the picture even when the Church won’t take a stand. God has injected a principle in this universe. God has said that all men must respect the dignity and worth of all human personality, ‘And if you don’t do that, I will take charge.’ It seems this morning that I can hear God speaking. I can hear him speaking throughout the universe, saying, ‘Be still and know that I am God. And if you don’t stop, if you don’t straighten up, if you don’t stop exploiting people, I’m going to rise up and break the backbone of your power. And your power will be no more!’ . . . . And I say to you this morning, my friends, rise up and know that, as you struggle for justice, you do not struggle alone, but God struggles with you. And He is working every day.” – King, The Birth Of A New Nation 1957
We never labor alone. We can do everything through Christ, who gives us strength (Phil 4:23)