Contributing Author: Mr. Chris Orr, Multi-discipline Teacher
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” ~ Declaration of Independence
On July 4, 1776, with Thomas Jefferson’s words our founders declared independence from a corrupt tyrannical government. One hundred and eighty years later many remain denied these “unalienable rights” by sinful men sought to devalue their humanity and their importance to a free and just society.
In the late 1950’s, our country was in the midst of one of its greatest struggles to determine the very heart and soul of this nation. More than a million African American men and women fought for their country in World War II, but they were denied basic rights and segregated from white Americans in their hometowns. Separate, but equal policies were the standard for the day, especially throughout the South.
Little progress was made until 1955. While riding on an Alabama public bus, a courageous young woman, Rosa Parks, refused to give up her seat to a white man in the segregated section. A fiery Baptist pastor, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., joined the movement to help institute the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which ended with the Supreme Court declaring segregated seating unconstitutional. Earlier, Brown v. the Board of Education had already declared that segregation in schools was unconstitutional, but few had tried to test these waters until the “Little Rock Nine” in 1957. The iconic photos of nine African American students being denied school entry, by the National Guard under orders of the Arkansas governor, still resound today.
In the midst of this time of strife and division, a single book became a stalwart of American literature as it tackled the issues at hand. Published in 1960, this book became the standard in public schools for discussions on race relations for nearly half a century. But, fast forward 62 years and this same book is one of the most banned in American schools for its treatment of racism, sexism, domestic abuse, and mental illness.
So were we wrong for a half a century? Are we still not in a battle for equal rights for people of all colors? To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee stands as an American classic, which serves as an excellent resource to lead discussions with students to teach them a biblical worldview of relationships with their fellow man and how our relationship with God reflects our treatment of others and vice versa. It deals with tough topics current to our modern society and helps students form their beliefs and thoughts to help overcome the fallacies of our current culture.
The book takes place in Maycomb, Alabama, in the 1930’s and details the court case of a black man, Tom Robinson, who was falsely accused of rape to cover up the guilt of a white woman breaking “a rigid and time honored code of her society” (272), her attraction to a black man. Atticus Finch, a white man and lawyer, courageously takes the case fighting against the social norms of the day that a white man’s word was of more value than those of color. He firmly believed “there is one way… in which all men are created equal. In this country our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts all men are created equal” (274).
The book is set up in a way to reveal valuable life lessons taught by Atticus to his children, Jem and Scout. It starts with a lesson about truly seeking to understand people by looking at things from their perspective instead of your own. Atticus says, “If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view until you climb into his skin and walk around in it” (39). This lesson, first taught to Scout, trying to get her to understand her struggles with her new teacher is processed throughout the book and is displayed in no greater fashion than with Atticus himself, when the town drunk and plaintiff in the court case spits in his face and threatens him. He tells Jem, “see if you can stand in Bob Ewell’s shoes a minute. I destroyed his last shred of credibility at that trial, … so if spitting in my face and threatening me saved Mayella Ewell (Bob’s daughter) one extra beating, that’s something I’ll gladly take” (292-293).
Atticus is willing to accept the threats he receives because it will save others from harm. The same is true in the trial of Tom Robinson as Atticus stands up for truth against the false assumptions of his hometown.
Next, we learn a lesson in courage as Atticus prepares his children for the upcoming trial and the hostility they will face because of their father’s decision to defend a black man. Atticus calls the hateful and venomous Ms. Dubose, the most courageous person he knows because she sought to overcome a morphine addiction before she passed away. Her vileness stemmed from her withdrawal symptoms with Atticus saying, “I want you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do” (149). Courage, as Atticus describes it, is not about holding power over someone; it is about standing up for what is right no matter the consequences or the chance of victory. Atticus did this in the court case, even though he lost and faced persecution from members of his community.
One of the most difficult sections of the book is chapter 24 because it deals with Christian hypocrisy. The ladies of Maycomb gather at the Finch house for their community missionary-circle meeting. As they gather, they speak of doing everything they can to help the Mrunas in a foreign land. Yet they criticize their host and the colored folks of their town for their approach and response to the trial of Tom Robinson. Mrs. Grace Merriweather, the most devout Christian in Maycomb County, states “if we just let them know we forgive ‘em, that we’ve forgotten it, then this whole thing will blow over” (310). The presumption from Mrs. Merriweather is as if the outcome of the trial was a one-time event in the life of Maycomb. It fails to recognize the poor treatment of colored folks that has occurred over the previous years and even centuries. In the middle of this conversation, one of the most poignant statements of the book is revealed as the conversation is interrupted by someone saying “hypocrites.” These ladies were claiming one thing for the Mrunas, but doing the opposite in their treatment of their African American neighbors.
It would be easy to go on and on about the lessons we can learn from To Kill a Mockingbird. As the cultural climate becomes increasingly hostile to books of moral value, at Trinity we hold fast to what is true. 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 says, “but examine everything carefully, hold fast to what is good, and abstain from every form of evil.” What is good and true is that we as a people stand against injustice geared toward our fellow neighbor and we stand side by side to fight for the truth established by the Word of God, and our forefathers, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Chris Orr attended Wingate University and then finished his graduate degree at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary with a Masters degree in Divinity. He and his wife Kelly, along with their three children, felt God leading them to Arizona in 2013 after a mission trip in Phoenix. Chris has served at Trinity since 2014 as an Upper School teacher and our Junior High Department Head.