By Scott Wright
Love is creative and redemptive. Love builds up and unites; hate tears down and destroys. The aftermath of the ‘fight with fire’ method…is bitterness and chaos, the aftermath of the love method is reconciliation and creation of the beloved community… Yes, love, which means understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill, even for one’s enemies. – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Two weeks ago, an amazing gathering took place all across the nation. Young people who crossed the border years ago as children with their immigrant parents gathered by the hundreds in dozens of cities to share their stories. They are known as “the dreamers,” recipients of an administrative decree known as DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a decree that permits them to pursue their dreams of work and study and family.
Together the dreamers number about 800,000 people, from many nationalities; and together with people of faith, including you our readers, we have been advocating with them during this Summer of Action for their right to partake of their dream. But time is running out for them, and for their families. Soon the administration will decide whether all of them, and their families, will stay.
Fittingly, one of the largest groups of dreamers is called “United We Dream.” For those of us with immigrant roots, their dreams are the dreams of our ancestors, and remind us of the words engraved on the Statue of Liberty, that great beacon of hope: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Yet for far too many people, especially Native Americans and African Americans, that dream is yet to be fully realized. We owe a debt of gratitude to all those who have gone before, and envisioned a hopeful future where all of God’s children have a place at the table of creation, irrespective of race, color or creed.
On this day in history, August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King delivered one of the most powerful addresses in U.S history at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Standing at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial, and addressing a crowd of more than 200,000 people, Dr. King spoke of the moment as “the time to make justice a reality for all God’s children” and offered these famous lines: “I have a dream….” As a child, I remember hearing those words live on television.
It is fitting that we remember this day in history as we reflect on the events of these past weeks, especially the violence and hatred on display in Charlottesville, Virginia of groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the Neo-Nazi Party who by design and ideology espouse white supremacy, and threaten the dreams and very lives of African Americans, Jews and Muslims, as well as immigrants of all races and creeds.
Charlottesville was a wake-up call to faith communities across the nation to speak out more boldly against an ideology of bigotry and hate. Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich was one leader who did respond: “When it comes to racism,” he said, “there is only one side: to stand against it.” The ugly seeds of white racism and violence are still with us today. Can we still learn something from Dr. King’s message today?
“We’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition,” Dr. King began, and spoke of how African Americans are still “in exile in their own land.” We will “never be satisfied,” he said, nor should we be, as long as African Americans are victims of “the unspeakable horrors of police brutality,” discrimination, inequality, and voter suppression, social evils which remain with us even to this day.
He urged his people “to forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline,” to avoid physical violence, and to continue to work with the faith that “unearned suffering is redemptive,” a testament of hope in the power of nonviolence to effect social change, and a challenge to all of us today to get involved. He reminded us, too, that the destinies of all people, black and white, are intertwined: “We cannot walk alone,” and “as we walk, we must make a pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.”
Dr. King’s message was clear, and so is Gospel: As a “nation,” we will be judged by the way we treat the poor and afflicted, the stranger and the outcast, the widow and the orphan. If we fail to respond to “the least” of our sisters and brothers with justice and compassion; if we remain silent in the face of hatred and violence aimed at harming and excluding others, we are turning our back on Christ (Matt 25:31-46).
So let us be dreamers, let us defend the right of people of every race, color and creed to partake of that dream, and together build the Beloved Community in our nation where all of God’s children have a place at the table as beloved neighbors, and fully share in the blessings of life and the fruits of their labor.