Friday, January 24, 2014

J. Herbert Nelson Remembers Franklin McCain, Civil Rights Leader

Tribute Delivered at the Service of Witness to the Resurrection
for Mr. Franklin McCain, Sr.
Friendship Baptist Church in Charlotte, NC
January 17, 2014

Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Director
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Office of Public Witness
Washington, DC

“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, they rest from their labors and their works do follow them.” -- Revelation 14:13

Franklin McCain has been written and talked about over the past few weeks on nearly every news service in this country and around the world. His commitment to justice, along with that of Joseph McNeil, Ezell Blair, Jr. (later known as Jibreel Khazan), David Richmond, and countless other young people and civil rights advocates was  reminiscent of soldiers engaging in war against earthly powers and principalities. There are no words to capture the degree to which these college students took on the role of modern day emancipators in an effort to build a new construct for living in the United States. We all are beneficiaries of their great courage.

Our scriptures remind us that those who die in the Lord – those who are engrafted into the Lord’s service and sojourners on behalf of the good Lord’s will being perfected are embraced in this moment – “they rest from their labors and their works do follow them.” As a Christian belonging to the Presbyterian Church, Frank McCain embodied the theology of John Calvin, who believed that our responsibility was to challenge powers, principalities, presidents, and potentates to lead in ways that God’s embrace and acceptance of all humanity might be understood. He called those who would follow Jesus to do the same.

I often wondered why he wore that ROTC uniform at the lunch counter on the day of the protest and arrest. A recent article revealed that he did not intend a statement. The simple answer was that he did not have time to take it off before coming to the lunch counter. It is interesting that wearing that uniform provided a statement about him that he did not even realize. His life represented a willingness to serve his country and the very system that denied him full human rights. However, his sitting down and refusing to bow to the laws that would not fully broker him in was a symbol of his righteous indignation – I am in this country and it is my home on this side of heaven, however I will not accept your terms of alienation. He and many others taught us how to love a nation and challenge it at the same time.

He was a family man who loved his wife and children. He was a brother to his fellow human beings. He was a loyal colleague to those with whom he worked. And he was a leader who knew, as Rudyard Kipling suggests, how “to walk with Kings and not lose the common touch.”

But as I take my seat, let me remind you that there are more than 12 million people who are in need of being emancipated into full citizenship in this country. We live in a nation where our children and adults are shooting themselves and one another to death in murder suicides, homicides, mass killings, and street corner crimes at the rate of over 30,000 per year. While states are suppressing the vote many of our neighbors are refusing to vote.  We have communities that are voting in numbers less than 20 percent during this crucial period in history. Moral Monday is a few days away. Have you been involved? Is your voice being heard?

Let this moment – this hour – this remembrance of our brother, who is resting from his labors, be a calling for you to stand up for the sake of justice in the world. Let our tribute to our brother’s memory today be a renewal of a commitment to stand fast in the liberty wherewith Jesus Christ has set us free. 

Frank McCain’s promise by God Almighty is sure, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, they rest from their labors and their works do follow them.” -- Revelation 14:13