-Slaying the Giant of Division-

United teams win. Divided teams lose. We all grasp that when we think about our favorite sports teams. But it can be easy to forget when we think about our own challenges, our own communities and our own life, especially in such a divisive world.

I was recently reminded about the power of unity as I read an obituary of Dr. Billy Graham. The story touched on Graham’s relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. While many of us tend to associate Graham more with his preaching and evangelism than with the civil rights movement, it is the latter which reminded me about how a unified group of people can help us slay the giant of division.

Graham and King were different men, from different places, with different approaches. Dr. King served God by mobilizing people to change our society, while Dr. Graham served God by meeting people and encouraging them to change their hearts. Yet they were united on the need to end racial segregation. And it was that unity that helped change lives.

“There is no scriptural basis for segregation,” said Dr. Graham in 1952, when he told a crowd in Jackson Mississippi that he would no longer conduct segregated revivals. Steps like that led Dr. King to share a stage with Graham a few years later, and pray for his “divine influence.” Those steps also led the KKK to add Dr. Graham’s name to their list of targets. Then, like now, was a divisive time.

People on all sides criticized both Dr. King and Dr. Graham. Graham focused on evangelism and his belief that changed hearts would lead to changed laws. “Any man who has a genuine conversion experience will find his racial attitudes greatly changed,” he said. Because of Graham’s emphasis on revival meetings and events, he was criticized by some for not using his church influence to directly mobilize and organize civil rights demonstrations.

Historians can and will continue to debate how a more aggressive posture by Dr. Graham would have impacted the civil rights movement. Would it have made him more or less effective? We do not and can not know for sure. But we do know that Dr. King believed that those people most impacted were the ones who needed to be at the front of the movement, and those teammates in the cause, like Dr. Graham, needed to use their influence to help unify the team and move the cause forward in the best way they knew how.

“You stay in the stadiums, Billy,” said Dr. King to Dr. Graham, “because you would have far more impact on the white establishment there than you would if you marched in the streets.”

This difference of approach, but unity of purpose, was not lost on the opposition. When Graham held an integrated service in South Carolina, then Governor George Timmerman said:

“As a widely known evangelist and native southerner, his endorsement of racial mixing has done much harm.” The governor’s words are harsh, and serve as a reminder that unity in purpose does not mean being everything to everyone, but it does mean uniting behind a shared vision – like the vision of an integrated country that was shared by both Dr. King and Dr. Graham.

For years, Graham continued to serve that vision. Like he would do in Selma and other places during the 1960’s, the man who would soon bear the label of “the nation’s pastor,” Graham continued to hold integrated services around the country, especially in locations of racial violence. Such unity helped create an environment for Dr. King’s message to be amplified and the Civil Rights movement to navigate the challenges of the day.

This lesson of unity is one our Second Chances movement has taken to heart. Our movement is built on a belief that people from all over the state and from all walks of life can unify behind the universal values of forgiveness, redemption and restoration. We believe that everyone has a role to play and can help with this movement, no matter what your background or political affiliation.

That is why we recently saw a university poll showing over 70% support from Florida voters for Amendment 4, the voting restoration amendment.  Those numbers represent a verification of our commitment to a unified purpose, and a steadfast belief that a second chance culture here in Florida will help create safer communities and stronger families.

We would love for you to join us and help our state unify behind a vision of a better state, a second chance state!! Therefore, if you are interested in getting more involved with this movement or plugging into the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, please email me at neil@floridarrc.org.

Neil Volz

Neil Volz has more than 25 years of experience working as a public servant and community advocate. This includes work as the Chief of Staff for a Member of Congress and Staff Director for a full Congressional Committee Read More .....