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Reflection: Martin Luther King’s Promised Land

As the nation observes Martin Luther King Day, a friar writes about the changes in race relations he has witnessed in the last few years and the effects of the current political climate in the United States.

On the night of Tuesday, July 27, 2004, the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention was given by then Illinois State Senator Barack Obama. He said, “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America. There is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America. There’s the United States of America.” This seems so long ago.

On Nov. 4, 2008, Barack Obama became the 44th president of the United States and the whole world was in shock. African Americans, whites, Latinos and Asians saw a change in attitude and behavior from the American people.

But that didn’t last very long. Congressmen and other officials seemed to try to plot how to make him a one-term, ineffective president while blocking the policies that he wanted to enact. The hope and excitement from this election seemed to uncover old wounds of racism and negative attitudes.

It looked as if the hard work of passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the many protests by Martin Luther King had finally paid off for America. The lives of the many people who demonstrated for racial equality and died 30, 40 and 50 years ago, had finally burst forth.

Treating All with Respect
However, the violent incidents around the country – in Ferguson, Baton Rouge, Charleston, Orlando and Chicago – have brought out people’s prejudices.

So much had been done to heal our country until these things happened, and I ask myself, why? The United States of America is supposed to be the melting pot of the world. It doesn’t seem so evident when we see and hear the ugly rhetoric, name calling and labeling of people of different cultures.

Tell me, where are these attitudes in a constitution that says, “We, the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity”?

All men and women deserve to be treated with respect. Better yet, we are called to a New Commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This commandment was set forth by Christ, and followed by people like Martin Luther King Jr., Archbishop Oscar Romero, and Mother Teresa. It is in their suffering, dying and giving of their lives and blood for those who were discriminated against, because they were black, poor, or just different.

Putting Faith to Work
When asked if I’m concerned seeing the behavior and the attitudes of our leaders and the people of the United States, I say yes. There has been a drastic change in American behavior toward people of color.

Lack of courtesy toward others who are different because of religion, color or language is fair game to those who feel threatened or feel like they are a minority? Where has common decency and respect for the human person gone? Have we forgotten that we are all created in God’s likeness and image? Until we truly live out our baptismal call of Christ, we’ll see one another as stumbling blocks and a challenge to attaining our goals.

As we look to what is ahead of us as a nation, we have to believe that God is in control. If we truly believe and put our faith to work in our lives, this will lead us to pray for our leaders, more than ever before.

Let us always remember the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “I may not get there with you, but we as a people {black, Latino, Asian, gay, bisexual and transgender} will get to the promised land.”

My fellow Franciscans, we have to continue to be counter-cultural for our brothers and sisters who have no voice or power. Not to speak is to agree with the behavior and actions that are not Christian, or Christ-centered.

 

— Br. Henry, who professed his first vows as a Franciscan in 1988, is a pastoral associate at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Triangle, Va.

Editor’s note: Friars interested in submitting a reflection about a feast day, holiday or other timely topic for publishing in a future issue of HNP Today should contact the HNP Communications Office at communications@hnp.org.  The previous reflection, about the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, was written by Todd Carpenter, OFM. Additional seasonal reflections can be found on the Spiritual Resources page of the HNP.org website.

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