As we honor the memory of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., I think we should never forget that he was a reluctant leader of the civil rights movement. His true calling was as a pastor. And every year on this day, I’m inspired by all of the MLK-quote memes shared on Facebook to dive deep into his wisdom and read a few of his sermons.
One in particular continues to challenge me. On February 28, 1954, Rev. King gave a sermon at Detroit’s Second Baptist Church. His words ring truer today than they did more than sixty years ago. “There is something wrong with our world, something fundamentally and basically wrong. . . We need to rediscover the precious values that we’ve left behind.”
As someone who considers myself progressive, I rarely look to the past. I have never subscribed to what I call the “Happy Days” myth, that we need to go back to some mythical time in our nation’s history when everything was perfect.
But we elected a President whose campaign promise was to Make America Great Again. And I can get on board with that slogan so long as we can reach some common understanding: What do we need to do to Make America Great Again? What are the precious values that we’ve left behind?
We live in a moral universe with moral laws
Rev. King preached, “We need to rediscover that all reality hinges on moral foundations. This is a moral universe, and there are moral laws of the universe, just as abiding as the physical laws. And there are consequences for breaking these moral laws.”
For MLK, the central tenet of this moral law was found in Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 22:34-39, Jesus teaches that all the commandments can be summed up in two principles:
- Love the Lord with all your heart and soul and mind; and
- Love your neighbor as yourself.
Both sides fail to obey the central tenet of moral law
It seems as a nation that we’ve lost our way on this. Christians have abandoned core principles of their faith to back a President who shows no love for anyone but himself. Trump claims to be charitable, but no evidence supports that his foundation has any purpose but that of self-aggrandizement. It has become acceptable for those of us living on the coasts to dismiss the people who live in flyover country as “deplorables.” And even though I don’t believe that you’re a racist because you voted for Trump, his election as President and the rhetoric he used to get there has emboldened white supremacists and led to a spate of hate crimes that our nation hasn’t seen for a very long time.
The Southern Poverty Law Center detailed 1,094 bias-related incidents in the month after Trump’s election, from November 9 through December 12. Of these 37% referenced Trump or his rhetoric during the campaign.
Ironically, one of the bias incidents occurred at a Michigan church, similar to the one where Dr. King preached his sermon. Here’s an excerpt from a voicemail left at a church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on November 21, 2016.
I think this is the gay church, that help gays that get kicked out of the country along with all the fricken Mexicans that are illegal that you guys are hiding illegally. I hope Trump gets ya. Trump Trump Trump. Trump Trump Trump. Trump’s gonna get your asses out of here and throw you over the wall. You dirty rotten scumbags. . .
In his sermon, MLK targeted the universal truth that hate is wrong. It’s always wrong to hate other people. It was wrong in Germany in the 1930s. Dr. King said it was wrong in the United States in 1954. It is wrong today. In order to Make America Great Again, we must abandon the hate that has come to define some sectors of our culture.
And I’m not just talking about blatant racial prejudice as exemplified by the rise of the KKK and neo-Nazi groups. The SPLC received twenty-six reports of anti-Trump bias. A friend shared with me a retched story about a group of thugs who kidnapped and abused a mentally challenged person, taunting him with anti-Trump hate speech.
And anti-Trump rhetoric isn’t limited to thugs. The disdain of my fellow liberal elitists was televised to an international audience of 20 million when none other than Meryl Streep gave a speech criticizing Trump AND HIS SUPPORTERS. I love Ms. Streep. Trust me. And I think Trump was ridiculous to call her underrated. If the only movie she’d ever been in was The Devil Wears Prada, her portrayal of Miranda Priestly would warrant her designation as one of the greatest actresses in history in my view. And there’s hardly a year that goes by where Meryl doesn’t deliver a stellar performance. In the words of Cam from Modern Family, “Meryl Streep could play Batman, and it would be the right choice.”
A Poor Performance by Meryl Streep
But her performance on January 8th was not her best. At first, I thought she made great points, but after discussing it with my colleague and friend, Donna Carol Voss, I realized that Ms. Streep did very little to help the cause and just reinforced the widely-held belief that us liberals are all elitists and don’t really care that much for the middle of the country who watch football instead of cinema (and I say “cinema” with a mid-Atlantic accent like Katherine Hepburn.)
The election divided people, but this week we will inaugurate Donald J. Trump as our 45th President. And I’m not one of those people who is gonna say, “He’s not my President.” Like it or not, he is the President of the United States. I’ll admit that I was physically sick on election day. I’ve had sleepless nights worried about the direction he’d take our nation. And I’ve gotten mad at the ridiculous and reckless things that Trump has done over the past two months, but I plan to channel that fear and anger. I intend to work hard so that Trump makes good on his campaign promise to Make America Great Again. And that means pushing him to look to our past and reconnect with those precious values that guided the course of our nation. Let’s move past the annus horribilis that was 2016 and work together in 2017. A little love on both sides would go a long way.
What I’ll be working on…
CHALLENGE: I hope that you had a wonderful holiday and that the wisdom of Martin Luther King, Jr. inspires you to look to your past at something that you used to be believe in, but have left behind. Let’s take that step backwards and rediscover our lost values so that we can all move forward together as we “Make America Great Again.”
Full text of the sermon available at https://swap.stanford.edu/20141218223358/http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/primarydocuments/Vol2/540228RediscoveringLostValues.pdf