By: J. Charles Coughlin
“Through your scientific genius you have made of the world a neighborhood, but through your moral and spiritual genius you have failed to make of it a brotherhood.” – Dr. Martin Luther King 11/4/56
President Ronald Reagan signed today’s holiday honoring Dr. King’s birth into law in 1986. It wasn’t until 2000 that all 50 states officially observed the holiday. The public process is slow and painful – it should remind all of us of the failure of our collective righteousness. It should encourage us to continue to strive, to sacrifice, to dig deep within ourselves, to forgive, and to work together to honor those who have come before. It should bring out the very best virtues that God has bestowed to each of us.
It is a reminder of the behavior we need to see in Washington this week – and from ourselves here at home.
To prevent shut down, our government needs to pass legislation very soon. Many have thought this is a ripe opportunity to right some historical wrongs and to simultaneously pass legislation to face some of our immigration challenges. It is also seen as an opportunity to secure the rights of undocumented immigrants brought into this country without legal authority by their parents, to establish better border security to enhance legal trade and commerce, and to promote bilateral trade which promotes better lives for the citizens of both countries. These issues demand attention, but most importantly, they demand leadership from our leaders to act as the public servants you are elected to be.
In a sermon given by Dr. King on November 4, 1956 entitled “Paul’s Letter to American Christians,” he reminds us all that the struggle for justice, is not about us, individually. It is really about all of us, collectively.
Indeed, over the weekend as our country’s elected leaders debated the coarseness of President’s Trump’s recent remarks, we seem to have forgotten that the lives and the well-being of hundreds of thousands of people are again at stake. This is not a time to score transitory political points. It is a time to be humble and seek out the greater good.
It seems altogether appropriate on this MLK Day to remind us what Dr. King said to every one of us sixty-two years ago, he became a Civil Rights leader because he was a Christian pastor:
“May I say just a word to those of you who are struggling against this evil (segregation). Always be sure that you struggle with Christian methods and Christian weapons. Never succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter. As you press on for justice, be sure to move with dignity and discipline, using only the weapon of love. Let no man pull you so low as to hate him. Always avoid violence. If you succumb to the temptation of using violence in your struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness. And your chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos.“
“In your struggle for justice, let your oppressor know that you are not attempting to defeat or humiliate him, or even to pay him back for injustices that he has heaped upon you. Let him know that you are merely seeking justice for him as well as yourself. “
I have spent the past 34 years in the business of politics and public policy. I have to admit that I have been guilty of confusing my own political passions for the true righteousness that Dr. King spoke of when he said in the same sermon, “You may even give your body to be burned, and die the death of a martyr. Your spilt blood may be a symbol of honor for generations yet unborn, and thousands may praise you as history’s supreme hero. But even so, if you have not love your blood was spilt in vain.”
Dr. King’s blood was not spilt in vain. So, as we celebrate Dr. King’s birthday, let us honor him, by asking of ourselves that we exercise our highest virtue – to love our enemies.
As he said, “So the greatest virtue of all is love. It is here that we find the true meaning of the Christian faith. This is at bottom the meaning of the cross. The great event of Calvary signifies more than a meaningless drama that took place on the stage of history. It is a telescope through which we look out into the long vista of eternity and see the love of God breaking forth in time. It is an eternal reminder to a power drunk generation that love is the most durable power in the world, and that it is at bottom the heartbeat of the moral cosmos.”
Let us all pray that this week, as our elected leaders discuss the fate of so many, that Dr. King’s words are a source of inspiration in bringing our country together around the principles and virtues that have graced our country in our most difficult times.
Let the strife of this moment bring out the best in all of us, as a way to honor Dr. King.
Note: I fully intended to write something today in honor of Dr. King and summoning our better angels around the topic of immigration and border security. Yesterday, however, I was inspired by my Pastor Frank Switzer at Redemption Arcadia when he read Dr. King’s sermon, “Paul’s letter to the Church in America” to the congregation. Thank you, Frank!