Christmas 1957 Sermon (PDF, 0.192 Mb)
— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Too many white people, including those who consider Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to be a role model, forget that not only was he a Civil Rights leader or a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate but also a Baptist minister. They seem to only think about the one speech — “I Have a Dream.” Coming from a very religious family background, I cannot forget he was a minister. And as such, I have been trying to read through his sermons.
Sermons are essentially lectures with a Biblical basis (usually a particular verse or set of verses). Watching my father prepare his sermons and listening to them in church, I can also tell you from personal experience that they also teach you about the character and integrity of the minister.
Particularly important to our current situation is this sermon from November, 1957.
There is a culture of hate and demonization that is splitting this country apart. Sadly, I am seeing many parallels between our current situation and both the causes of the Civil War (1861-1865) as well as the Civil Rights movement (that most of us seem to date as only being inclusive of 1950-1970, but truly is still part of the whole issue that the Civil War brought to light and honesty – and still continues today, because it has never ended).
Right now it is not only our African-American population who are being targeted with hate and danger (although they, Muslim Americans and our Native Americans seem to be bearing the worst of the danger). Our fellow citizens who embody that worst sin in the eyes of white conservatives — that of being different — are endangered.
I try to keep in mind a reality that Dr. King expresses in this sermon: “…there is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us.”
It’s very hard to remember this when so many of us are being vilified and stigmatized by being something we cannot help. I cannot help being female and therefore not allowed to have body autonomy by our incoming government. My role models cannot help being African-American and female (and one of them part of our LGBTQ community) and therefore somehow aren’t allowed to have body autonomy as well as being treated as if their life were not as precious as that of a white person.
I will admit to being someone who struggles with the concept of forgiveness as defined by Dr. King. It’s not because I’m a non-Christian. Forgiveness is not solely a Christian act. When it comes to my ex-husband, I embody what Dr. King says is not forgiveness: “I will forgive you, but I won’t have anything further
to do with you.”
Part of it, I suppose, is that I am still struggling with forgiving myself for allowing myself to be swallowed up by his choices. He has apologized a number of times, but unlike the father of the Prodigal Son, I cannot forgive him in the way Dr. King says.
That makes it one step harder for me to apply forgiveness to the portion of America who considers President Trump to be the epitome of what they believe. To them, I am simply a pussy to be grabbed and disposed of once they are done using me. To them, my friends who are not white, not Christian, not straight or any of the other labels that are being used to excuse committing hate and damage to a human being are less-than-human.
I would like to be like Dr. King. I really would. But I cannot get past the evil acts. I can’t get past the false words being called “alternative facts.” I don’t know that the current moral debts that are being created can ever be cancelled.
The worst part? I know damned well that what I am feeling and experiencing is minuscule next to the experience of our American citizens who are not protected by the color of my skin or my heterosexuality.
I want to shelter them “as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings” (Matthew 23:37) so that they are protected by my whiteness and my straightness. But I do not have the right to force my protection on them, because that is just as bad as the hatred they are already bearing. It is not my right to impose upon their autonomy. If I want to help, all I can really do is offer that help – but not force it upon them, nor act as if I know better (particularly in ways that disrespect the experience and wisdom of elders).
I wish I could see the future that Dr. King spoke of so passionately. I wish I could love as he exhorts us to do.