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Lessons learned through community activism (OPINION)

By Benson Jones/For the Sentinel

Murray has always been my home, and I imagine that Murray will continue to be my home in the future, no matter where I am. When I moved away for college, l took pride in telling people that I came from the small town in western Kentucky that was home to Murray State University, but in the summer of 2020, I was embarrassed to call Murray my home.

In the Fall of 2007, my family adopted my little brother from Liberia, West Africa. At that moment, our family became a mixed-race family, and throughout the years, following the adoption of my brother, our eyes were opened to the way that others viewed how our family should look or did not view my brother as a part of our family, at first glance. 

I have also observed how proud the community is of its Christian roots. There are numerous churches in our small town, and I have had an opportunity to participate in many local church congregations. So, when the debate over the monument came to the forefront of the community conversation, I was surprised by the stance that many in the religious community chose to take. As a practicing Christian, l was very disappointed in the response (or lack thereof) from the churches and self-proclaimed Christians of Murray during those times. 

Isaiah 40:18-19 resonated loudly with me at the time, “To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him? An idol [or a statue]! A craftsman casts it and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and casts for it silver chains.” It spoke to me, as someone who believes that all of human race was created in God’s image, in a way that, I believe, clearly outlines the stance that a Christian should not take on idols. I believed that, as a community, we had the chance to stand against idolatry, as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did in the book of Daniel.

To help facilitate that, I organized a prayer walk in August 2020. The motivation for the event was to bring unity under a common name (the name of Christ), advocating and praying for a change in the hearts of those hardened and blind to the truth of our own country’s history and how we should treat one another as “image bearers”.

This event was specifically geared towards the Christian faith community of Murray. In the Christian faith, prayer is a powerful way that believers in Christ are able to personally communicate their hearts, desires, concerns and struggles; confess sins; plead for change in the lives of others; and build a greater relationship with the God of the universe. 

In the instance of the monument in Murray’s town square, the Bible of the Christian faith distinctly offers the idea that all of mankind was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). There is no difference between others in what is called being “image bearers” based on the color of their skin. Rather the Christian faith holds that all of mankind – regardless of skin color – is on the same footing when it comes to existence in this world and there is no qualifier to be saved in Christ based on the color of one’s skin (1 Timothy 1:8-10). Therefore, the goal of the prayer walk was to pray for those with hard hearts, supporting a hateful symbol, to see the negative impact it has on the community.

Surprisingly, organizing the event was not difficult. There were some safety concerns, both with covid at the time and other physical factors. Prior to the walk, there had been one or two outbursts of violence associated with other events in support of moving the hateful symbol of the statue, not to mention the threat of violence evidenced by the open carrying of firearms by supporters of the statue. So, we contacted the Murray Police Department to accompany us while we walked on roads and for safety in the event of violent opposition. 

Of course, it was August of 2020, so we also had to make arrangements to make clear that those worried about COVID should either wear masks and social distance or forego coming to the event for health purposes. 

We determined a route for the walk that was simple and not too long. There were many churches and pastors in Murray that were very accommodating and helpful. My system was basic – I asked people I knew for the contact information of people they knew, then cold-called those people, asking if they would be willing to attend. At the end of the walk, we had a moment (maybe a song or two) of worship singing, and one of the churches was very accommodating with their sound equipment so that everyone in attendance was able to hear what was said and sung. 

But the experience also came with some lessons about community activism, namely that everyone is not always as you had held them out to be in your own mind. I struggled with disappointment and anger at the time with the realization that some pastors and churches either refused to be involved or associated and others did not even return my calls and therefore distanced themselves from the issue. It is important to learn that just because someone says they are on your side; they are not necessarily truly on your side.

Nonetheless, the event went smoothly and as planned. No violence occurred, thankfully. It went exactly as it had been imagined. I think, at the very least, the immediate impact was realized – to bring many different parts of the Christian community, and the larger community overall, together. In doing so, we hoped that prayer would bring this issue, which is clearly scriptural, to the forefront of the minds of the attendants.

The truth is the hopeful outcome of the event may not have been material. When it comes to something such as prayer, it is hard to truly tell the ultimate outcome until years later. However, in the inception of the event, the hope was to use something that those professing to be followers of Christ knew to be true – that all men are equally image bearers and equally sinful (Romans 3:23) – and bring the community together to ask God to change the hearts and minds of those people that had the ability to move a hateful symbol from the center of our town.

Benson Jones is a recent graduate of Chase School of Law at Northern Kentucky University and currently works in the legal department for the Fortune 500 company TQL at its Cincinnati headquarters.

Editor’s note: Jones is the brother of Sentinel Editor Jessica Paine.

Sentinel Staff

Jessica Paine
I’m Jessica Paine, founder of The Murray Sentinel. You may know me from my time as a citizen journalist, running the Calloway Covid-19 Count page on Facebook, or you may be familiar with my more recent work for another local news outlet. Being that I’m “from here,” you may have known me since I was “knee-high to a grasshopper,” although you knew me as Jessica Jones. But whether you know me or not, I’m glad you found your way here.


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