In this sermon, Rev. Murray addresses many issues in society surrounding racial inequality. “Until there is justice for everybody,” he says, “there is justice for nobody.” He encourages his congregation to stand up tall by voting, writing letters and protesting for positive change.
During his 27 years as the pastor of First African Methodist Episcopal Church (FAME), Rev. Cecil “Chip” Murray transformed a small congregation into a megachurch that brought jobs, housing and corporate investment into South Los Angeles neighborhoods. After the 1992 civil unrest, FAME Renaissance, the economic development arm of the church, brought more than $400 million in investments to L.A.’s minority and low-income neighborhoods. Rev. Murray remains a vibrant force in the Los Angeles faith community through his leadership of the USC Cecil Murray Center for Community Engagement.
The Murray Archive preserves Rev. Murray‘s sermons and interviews in order to inspire the next generation of pastors, activists and scholars.
Following is a lightly edited transcript of the above sermon. To quote from the sermon, please provide credit to: Rev. Cecil L. Murray, Murray Archives, USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture.
“Fighting Without and Fears Within”
October 1, 1995
My dear family in God, it’s good to be alive, isn’t it?
Turn to your neighbor on your right and say, “It’s good to be alive!” Tell your neighbor it’s good to be alive! It’s good to be alive!
But as long as you’re alive, you will probably experience what we’re going to be talking about in this series of sermons: fightings without and fears within.
It’s not going away. It’s not going away. If it isn’t one thing, it’s another. Some fightings are necessary, aren’t they? Some fightings are necessary. You and I must fight the good fight. And we must always remember we can handle this fear on the inside if we’ve got something within. Something within. Our problem is not the outside–we can handle Mark Fuhrman! We can handle Mark Fuhrman.
Turn to your left and call your neighbor by the N word. Neighbor, turn right back and to ’em, tell them in the words of the African proverb: “It ain’t the name you call me, it’s the name I answer to!”
The real fights are on the inside. And that’s where our problem comes, and that’s where our solution comes–on the inside. Mr. Dole, Senator Dole, is running around the country siccing everybody on Black folks. He’s making us the enemy. The conservatives are running here, running there, siccing everybody on us. But you remember Pogo the Possum when he said, “We have met the enemy, and they is us!”
The system has to change. The system has to be purged. Every time you look, someone is asking you, “Are you Black folks goin’ tear up Los Angeles if the decision comes in contrary to what you want?”
What is the only answer except, “Has the process been observed?”
Now, you have a jury: Are we represented on the jury? Yes. Are we represented on the prosecution? Yes. Are we represented on the defense? Yes. Has justice been done in the courtroom we pray? Yes. Then if process has been observed, why do you think we are going around burning and looting? You think we got less sense than anybody else? We are talking about justice!
We want to heal this country. We want to heal our communities. And we want to make very certain you can’t put a band-aid on a cancer. We can’t wrap up until we make up. We got some understandings to go about. Husband and a wife split, they come back together. They split, they come back together. That can go on ad infinitum. The same two people having the same problems are going to have the same outcome. We’ve got to sit down and have an understanding. We’ve got to understand that until there’s justice for everybody, there is justice for nobody! We’ve got to understand that.
Our subject: healing first, hugging second.
Second Corinthians, chapter 7, verse 5 or thereabouts tells us, “When we arrived in Macedonia, there was no rest for us. Outside, trouble was on every hand, all around us. Within us, our hearts were full of dread and fear.”
Paul is nervous in Macedonia. Anytime things are wrong, and you have any sensitivity at all, you get a little bit nervous. Paul was nervous in Los Angeles. Paul is just come from Corinth, and in Corinth was a church that Paul helped to get started. But something began to develop in that Corinthian church: a power struggle. Darlings, that’s the fact of life. Everywhere you go, there is gonna be a power struggle.
You got to understand, Jesus was caught up in a power struggle. And once we realize that unless we are on the side of right, we gonna lose that power struggle, we gonna keep on being victimized. But when we take the high ground, when we take the moral ground, when we know where the source of our power is, we can’t lose with the stuff we use. We can’t lose when we’re on the side of God.
They’ve had a church fight in Corinth. Oh, if you have a choice between being caught up in a bull fight or a dog fight or a cat fight and being caught up in a church fight, please my children, go for the bull fight every time! Go for the dog fight every time! Go for the cat fight. At least when the fight is ended, they’ll be something of you left to bury.
But in a church fight—oh, Lord!–ain’t nothing left but a bitter taste in your mouth. America’s cranking up with the right-wing churches on one hand and the left-wing churches on another. You think the Ku Klux Klan is terrible, burning the cross? You think the Third Reich skinheads are terrible? You haven’t seen anything ’til the people of God go to war.
It would seem to me that on the body politik, you need a right-wing and you need a left-wing. But it seems to me that when one side is overbalanced, when the right-wing is overbalanced, when the right-wing wants to force religion down people’s throats, when the right-wing that blessed slavery wants to jump up now and condemn the inner-city, when the right-wing wants to act as if we are the only people on welfare, when they are 38 percent of the people on welfare.
We pay the farmer for what he doesn’t grow, we pay the miner for what he doesn’t bring up. They talk about affirmative action: The white male in America is 33 percent of the population, but 90 percent of Congress, 90 percent of the Fortune 500 executives, 100 percent of the presidents.
If you’re gonna call yourselves right-wing, you at least ought to be right! If you’re gonna call yourselves the right-wing Christian conservatives, you ought to at least be in the right! Otherwise, when only one wing on the chicken, the chicken just goes round in circles.
So, Paul is in Macedonia, and over in Corinth, the church is just going ‘round in circles. So, Paul sends his friend Titus with a letter. Theologians call it the “stern letter.” Paul really takes them to task. Paul tells them, “You call yourselves the body of Christ, and here you are fighting! If you are the body of Christ, then you ought to have the agenda of Christ.”
The agenda of Christ is that all people are equal. You are no better than everybody else. Red or yellow, black or white, all are precious in God’s sight! If you are of the body of Christ, you don’t go around figuring out ways you can hurt people! You go around figuring out ways you can help people! You don’t worry about those 15 percent of Black people who are with substance abuse; you wonder at those 85 percent who are not on substance abuse. And you wonder why we are 15 percent of the drug traffic and 37 percent of the drug arrests.
He writes ’em a stern letter admonishing them to believe in the Jesus Christ that they profess. Then Paul has second thoughts: “Maybe I should’ve made it a little sweeter. Maybe I should’ve used a different language. Maybe I should just’ve told them that we are all washed in the blood of the lamb, and that one day, Jesus is coming again. And when He comes again we will be caught up in the air. Maybe I should’ve talked about them being into the Word, into the Word rather than talking about the Word getting into them. Maybe I should’ve been conciliatory. Maybe I should’ve done like one of the justices of the Supreme Court who got there on affirmative action and now that he’s there, he doesn’t want affirmative action. Maybe I should’ve gone into denial. Maybe I shouldn’t have called a struggle a struggle, a fight a fight. Maybe I should’ve been soft and sweet.”
A lot of our peoples are just crying: peace, peace, peace! I don’t see no colors!
Well, you’re the only one in America who don’t see any color.
The trick is not to be color blind; the trick is to be color rich. We see colors, but we also see possibilities in every color. We see red and yellow and black and white and brown, and we don’t want anybody to be blue, so we lift everybody up. And this color that we’re trying to put down, we remember that they were here, oh they were here! The Pilgrims came in 1620, and they were here in 1517. So that when the Pilgrims walked ashore, the Black man and the Red man walked out to greet them: “Welcome to our home! Welcome to our home!”
You have to find a way to heal before you can be respected. Nobody’s going to respect you if you just take everything sitting down, and standing up doesn’t mean standing up throwing a rock! Standing up means standing up voting. Standing up protesting. Standing up writing letters. Stand up tall, and nobody can ride your back! Stand tall, and nobody can ride your back. Stand tall with dignity and nobody can ride your back. Stand tall on the Word of God and nobody can ride your back. Nobody!
People can be so cruel when you a little bit outta step. And God calls us all to be out of step. One young girl in 10th grade is rather tall. And sometimes our society punishes tall people. It’s bad enough for the males; it’s even worse for the females. But daughters, if you are of stature, don’t you bend your back and try to make yourself shorter. Stand tall! Stand tall!
One little girl comes to her father crying; she towers over him. “Daddy, they’re always asking me, how’s the weather up there? How’s the weather up there? I get so tired of them asking me, how’s the weather up there? What am I going to do?”
Daddy said, “Daughter, next time somebody asks you, how’s the weather up there? Say to them, why don’t you grow up and find out?”
The Macedonians are fighting all around Paul, they’re fightings with our people. Just jumping just to be jumping, and then there’s the fear of the letter, and so that it is written here, our bodies got no rest.
Anybody tell you there’s rest for the weary, I don’t know what planet they livin’ on. There is no rest for us, not as long as our children are killing children. There is no rest for us as long as we have adults killing adults and acting like children. There is no rest for us as long as our children are being born out of wedlock and there’s a parent that’s missing somewhere in the equation. There is no rest for us when in our elections, only 33 percent of us are voting. There is no rest for us when our divorce statistics are rising higher and higher. There is no rest for us when our children are getting addicted to drugs and addicted to alcohol and addicted to firearms. There is no rest for us until we arrest that problem, until we learn how to handle our fightings, and our fears. Until we learn to turn to God, there is no rest for us!
If you want peace, you will go to pieces unless you go to God. Look at what God does for Paul and Titus. They don’t even know that while the letter is on its way to Corinth, the Corinthians have begun to rethink and repent of their insurrection against the laws of God, their rebellion against the laws of God. The Corinthians have already begun to repent. They are sorry for the way they treated Paul, and by the time Titus comes in with the letter, they read the letter and then they hug Titus and tell Paul, “It’s all right.”
I don’t think they could possibly have been prepared for that letter unless Paul in the first place had acted with integrity. You and I don’t need to sell out in order to have a home in suburbia. You and I don’t need to sell out in order to have a $30,000 car. You and I don’t need to sell out in order to have soft clothing and silk accessories. You and I need to have integrity! We need to stand up and tell the truth. We need to wait for America to repent! We need to say, “You are wrong, repent! Stand, you are wrong!”
Just give me one more minute, one more minute, because we gotta end on God’s note. The Corinthians repent and Paul opens his arms. Daughters, sons, don’t go around fronting. Mad at everything! This ain’t no time to get mad. This is a time to get smart! This is no time to get even; this is a time to get ahead! This is no time to go back to the 60s and the 70s, trying to dig up heroes. We need heroes and heroines for the 21st century! This is no time to sit back and wait for the Lone Ranger to come riding in out of the West. The Lone Ranger has already arrived! They call him Jesus! They call him Jesus! They call him Jesus!
And Jesus has said, “I will not give up, I will not let up, until I’ve stayed up!”
Lifted up, in the name of Jesus!