After Ferguson

Will we ever get there?

As this is written, it’s still December 1st in the US, the exact date in 1955 ago that Rosa Parks made her quiet but firm stand for justice by refusing to give up her seat on a bus merely because of the color of her skin. And on this date in 2014, racial tensions in the US are inflamed still.

Yes, still, not ‘again.’ I wanted to learn which of the two references applied, so I asked Bishop Lance Davis on radio Monday, a friend and guest of the show who brings depth of experience and insight to conversations about social issues of the day, which it is in the reality of African American communities and individuals. Long story short, it’s ‘still.’ We didn’t get over racism in America, it never went away, it’s been a reality for far too many Americans for far too long, for many reasons. And as terrible as Ferguson has been for months, as exploited as it has been by people and factions for whatever their reasons, it provides an opportunity to face the realities and determine what we will do about them. Together. Because if it’s fractured into actions and reactions by identity groups, we won’t get anywhere to to advance an answer to the problem. We’ll only continue to be part of the problem.

Bishop Davis has been on my radio show to talk about the African American Clergy Coalition working together with Catholic bishops of Illinois to uphold marriage law and “getting our priorities straight”. His main points were outlined simply but clearly: “What really impacts the average black person? Do our priorities line up with that of our elected officials and community leaders?”

He and fellow clergy asked why state leaders were ignoring the most glaring issues their communities faced, most importantly inadequate education, high unemployment, injustices in the penal system, and the politics and political scandals that politicians were so caught up in. They held press conferences last year with the message that “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!”

They have never let up in their efforts to effect change for inner city schools, state funding to build more schools, allow students books instead of forcing them to leave the book under the desk in each class for the next student, and so on. But they never got the attention they sought from politicians who could make a difference.

Bishop Davis told me about driving his son to college in late summer, crying – not as or why most of us do when driving our child to college, but – because his son made it out of the neighborhood alive, and had that opportunity for a future, which so many young black men did not, for so many reasons.

I venture to say that while we know of gang violence and social breakdown in the inner cities, most whites don’t know this.

As one of the few black male reporters at The [Wall Street] Journal, I’ve had experiences over the years that are unknown among my white colleagues, though anything but unique among other black men. We’ve all had our encounters; we’ve all been in situations where being black becomes synonymous with being suspicious, where demanding rights and respectful treatment can be seen as resisting law enforcement.

How aware are you of the experiences some of your accomplished, talented, intellectual, impressive colleagues or friends in the professional world – who happen to be black – have had to face while growing up and coming of age? Read that whole WSJ article.

As a teenager, I could be a doofus, but I knew even then that my margin for error was nonexistent compared with that of my friends and co-workers. On a perfectly beautiful day, I could be suspicious enough to a police officer that I would end up on the wrong end of a gun barrel.

For many black men in America, that margin of error has not improved. I don’t condone the rioting in Ferguson, but it might help if the rest of the country had some small sense of the frustration and anger that this situation continues to cause.

My friend Tod Worner, who thinks like a brother I didn’t know I had, wrote this. In citing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the nature of his protests on behalf of the great Civil Rights Movement, for human dignity and “all God’s children”, a hero truly honest and honorable, who saw justice and injustice through the lens of history and Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, Tod’s post speaks profoundly well to and of the protests still festering in and about Ferguson.

I wrapped up Monday’s show saying there are three options and two are unacceptable. We can’t be complacent, complacency is not an option. We can’t be part of the problem in the many ways that provision is being offered to the American public. So we have to be part of the solution. I pray we each see the way to be that.

Talk about the wounds of racism

The subject of America’s painful past with slavery is in the news again. Good….we need to have this debate.

What brought it up this time is the effort in Mississippi to get approval for a particular new license plate.

Plans for a Mississippi specialty license plate honoring controversial Confederate Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest are reviving tensions over “unreconstructed” Southerners and their place in the modern South.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans want to honor Forrest on a 2014 specialty license plate…

But the state NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and a Facebook group are raising objections, saying that a state-sanctioned Forrest license plate sends a not-so-subtle signal to African-Americans that Mississippi condones a man who helped start the Ku Klux Klan after the war.

On the heritage of the South, I defer to those most directly linked. Starting with this HuffPo commentator.

If the account he cites there is true, it’s sickening and repulsive. Most people of common sense and goodwill are beyond even questioning or debating that. America largely thought we triumphed over our racist past in 2008 when an African-American man was elected president. Half black, half white, Barack Obama represented for many people the post-racist modern era of tolerance, diversity and acceptance of common and shared humanity.

But the wrinkle in this picture was always the troubling and frankly, intellectually staggering, debt this politician….as well as the Rev. Jesse Jackson and a few others….owed or tried to pay to the abortion movement. With seemingly no awareness of not just the similarity between the two movements, but the exact mirror images of abortion to slavery.

What isn’t clear about this? One whole class of human beings was deprived of their rights when their entire being was subordinated to the will of another class of human beings who ‘owned’ them and could determine their fate at will. In our ‘modern’ age, it’s….exactly the same. One whole class of human beings is being deprived of their rights while their entire being is subordinated to the will of another class of human beings who have the legal right to determine their fate, whether they live or die, with no guarantee of constitutional protection or recognition as persons under the U.S. Constitution.

Let’s look at that HuffPo commentary again.

When debates arise over symbols and heritage and identification I am infuriated when such ideas as this license plate rears their ugly heads. We can’t have one state, much less one nation, when we embrace symbols that reflect a tense and asymmetrical heritage.

It’s a false heritage we seek to elevate when our symbols divide rather than include. Our energy and spirits are washed down into the gutter when we fight to uphold a heritage that seeks to alienate rather than embrace.

Yes, some of our heritage belongs in museums. We have plenty of nobility and decency to embrace and stand on, stand on together, without the insecurities and ignorance of racism elevated to places of honor.


I caught CNN’s Anderson Cooper interviewing gentlemen on both sides of this debate and was struck that in the closing comments, the Princeton professor lamented ‘the erasure and revision’ going on here.” Why, I wonder, can’t they see the obvious?

Dr. Alveda King works to help them, every day. Like…this one.

I have always found it interesting that two polar opposite anniversaries are in January: the life of a man who promoted religion, peace, nonviolence and justice, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade, which allows the violence and injustice of abortion.

Since 1973 there have been 53 million abortions.

It is fitting that this month Dr. Kermit Gosnell of Philadelphia was arrested on Jan. 19. He is charged with killing seven babies who were born alive during the abortion procedure, killing one patient and a host of other crimes.

The seven babies Gosnell is charged with murdering were born alive during the attempt to abort them. To terminate the babies’ lives, which is abortion’s essence, he shoved scissors into the babies’ necks and severed their spinal cords…

Gosnell is not being charged for the thousands of babies he killed before they were born.

Without a doubt, King would oppose Gosnell’s actions. As a Christian minister and civil rights leader, King would have impressed upon Gosnell and Americans the difference between a just and unjust law.

Which comes, full circle, to the issue at hand. It’s so clear.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The Negro cannot win . . . if he is willing to sell the future of his children for his personal and immediate comfort and safety.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

If King were alive today

Dr. Martin Luther King lives on in his legacy. There are many voices speaking for what that means today.

Especially today, little more than a week after the random violence in Arizona perpetrated by a lone, mad gunman. But politicians used the occasion to weave it all together.

Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking at King’s former church in Atlanta, praised him as “our nation’s greatest drum major of peace” and said the Jan. 8 bloodshed was a call to recommit to King’s values of nonviolence, tolerance, compassion and justice.

“Last week a senseless rampage in Tucson reminded us that more than 40 years after Dr. King’s own tragic death, our struggle to eradicate violence and to promote peace goes on,” Holder said.

So does the struggle to reform our understanding and treatment of human beings suffering from mental illness. But this is a day for other civil reflections…

Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, who worked with King during the civil rights movement, issued a renewed call for Americans to unite in peace and love as King preached during his lifetime.

“If Dr. King could speak to us today, he would tell us that it does not matter how much we disapprove of another persons point of view, there is never a reason to deny another human being the respect he or she deserves,” Lewis said.

Exactly. That’s what his niece, Dr. Alveda King, has dedicated herself to teaching, but with greater elaboration on that point. If her uncle were here today, says this Dr. King, he would not claim the political views some of his avid followers ascribe to him.

Dr. Alveda King, full-time Director of African American Outreach for Priests for Life and niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said today that advice columns written by her uncle for Ebony magazine in 1957-58 reveal a man who today would be regarded as a social conservative.

“In advising men and women on questions of personal behavior 50 years ago, Uncle Martin sounded no different than a conservative Christian preacher does now,” said Dr. King. “He was pro-life, pro-abstinence before marriage, and based his views on the unchanging Word of the Bible. Today, Planned Parenthood would condemn Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as part of the ‘religious right.'”

Startling thought to a lot of people perhaps. But Dr. Alveda King has been saying this, consistently, for decades. Last year on this occasion, she said this:

“Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of a Beloved Community where all are treated with respect and dignity,” said Dr. King. “He fought against society’s exclusion of people who were treated as less than human because of their appearance. Today, we are compelled to continue Uncle Martin’s fight by standing up for those who are treated as less than human because of their helplessness and inconvenience.
“The unborn are as much a part of the Beloved Community as are newborns, infants, teenagers, adults, and the elderly. Too many of us speak of tolerance and inclusion, yet refuse to tolerate or include the weakest and most innocent among us in the human family. As we celebrate the life of Uncle Martin, let us renew our hearts and commit our lives to treating each other, whatever our race, status, or stage of life, as we would want to be treated. Let us let each other live.”

That, fundamentally, constitutes the civil rights movement today. And it’s the core of all other rights. To deny or disregard that, requires the ‘willful suspension of disbelief’ of what you can’t not know……the natural law about moral order.

Plans for a memorial to Dr. King were highlighted today. Good. Its existence on the Washington Mall should provide the opportunity to focus on his legacy in its fullness and truth.

What to make of the rally

The massive rally on the mall of Washington over the weekend has the media in a tangle. It was larger and more peaceful and more positive and less political than they expected, and this is all territory largely foreign to them. How to account for what they’re all calling ‘Glenn Beck’s rally’?

Though it was more about recovering personal virtue than replacing political parties, the CS Monitor suggests some politicians may have cause for concern.

Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally in Washington Saturday could not have been an encouraging sign for Democrats and the Obama administration.

The crowd was huge by any count – likely at least a couple hundred thousand people judging by aerial photos and the reported comments of some police officers – stretching from the Lincoln Memorial back to the Washington Monument.

And far from being a gathering of self-proclaimed rabble rousers carrying offensive signs insulting of President Obama, as has often been the case with “tea party” rallies spurred on by Mr. Beck, it was mostly a heartfelt and largely nonpartisan expression of civic concern, patriotism, and religious faith.

In other words, there may have been some Democrats in the crowd, but even they are likely not happy with the direction the country’s taking, according to recent polls – including the policies and programs pushed by the majority party in Congress and the White House.

And yet, this was a new Beck on a new mission, calling out Americans to change what’s wrong with the country by changing what’s wrong with themselves.

“We must get the poison of hatred out of us,” he told the crowd. “We must look to God and look to love. We must defend those we disagree with.”

This from a man who has called Obama “a racist” and likened Al Gore’s campaign against global climate change to “what Hitler did” in having scientists use eugenics to justify the Holocaust.

Which drives Beck’s critics nuts.

It’s driving them nuts partly because Beck is doing exactly what Obama did in 2007-2008, and doing it nearly as well. Most media don’t seem to be getting that, but in this NPR review of differing viewpoints on the rally, someone does.

At the widely read conservative webste, blogger “Allahpundit” thinks that “in a way, the rally … mirrored rallies held for then-candidate Barack Obama in 2007 and leading up to the election of 2008. Both this rally and many of Obama’s featured mesmerizing speakers, who chose to inspire audiences by rhetorically empowering them to take matters into their own hands.” But, Allahpundit adds, “while Beck’s rally emphasized belief in God, Obama’s generally emphasized himself as a savior of the American people.”

The comparison is both valid and important to understand. Obama was a masterful community organizer. The country has learned that skill from him and learned it well, and it’s working to galvanize individuals into a communal force for change.

That they rallied on this particular occasion where they did posed a problem, some say a huge offense.

The rally took place on the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech.

Beck is asking for a return to traditional American values, but the Reverend Al Sharpton accused him of trying to hijack King’s legacy.

“They want to disgrace this day. This is our day and we’re not giving it up,” said Sharpton.

With all due respect, I take issue with this claim. Dr. King’s niece, Dr. Alveda King, took a prominent and active role in “Beck’s rally” at the site where her uncle delivered his impassioned rallying cry for the nation to ennoble itself and its citizens by recognizing the dignity of all humans. She has worked for years within the pro-life movement to promote King’s ideals and goals of realizing universal human rights across the spectrum, without exception. Her participation in Beck’s rally dignified it. Attacks like this disgrace the cause of unity King embodied.

“This is our day and we’re not giving it up”? What does this say? Dr. Martin Luther King said, passionately, that his dream is for a country that judges a person not by the color of their skin but the content of their character. It was an address about race as a highlight of the fundamental issue of human dignity. It dishonors Dr. King to narrowly and angrily claim that his rally belonged to one race and not the entire nation it sought to free from hatred and fear and rancor and division.

In Dr. King’s speech, just after he says

I have a dream that one day…right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

…he goes on to say what has far less been quoted:

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

He was a Christian preacher. He quoted the Gospel, and called on the nation to recall and embrace the meaning of ‘My Country ‘Tis of Thee.

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

Many people are trying to do that still…and again.

Competing rallies, same essential message

Restore, renew, reclaim. Two rallies take place today in Washington on this anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. One is on the spot where Dr. King delivered that famous oration. The other nearby, but headed to the Mall as well. They’re being reported as being two very different groups of activists in tension, having two competing messages. But they’re not. Or….need not be.

This WaPo story is an early snapshot of the whole thing, both as it is (facts are there) and as it’s being portrayed by the press and certain politicians (information is arranged strategically). Television host and commentator Glenn Beck organized the “Restoring Honor” rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Rev. Al Sharpton arranged the “Reclaim the Dream” rally to begin at Dunbar High School and continue in a march to the Mall.

Actually, both groups are claiming very similar purposes and have similar messages.

Beck’s is the headlined event. He opened with this:

“We have had moments of brilliance and moments of darkness. But this country has spent far too long worried about scars and thinking about the scars and concentrating on the scars. Today, we are going to concentrate on the good things in America, the things that we have accomplished – and the things that we can do tomorrow. The story of America is the story of humankind.”

A lot of participants are telling the media that’s the message that drew them to attend this event.

Beck’s rally has been billed as a peaceful and non-political “re-dedication” of the traditional honor and values of the nation. The event is taking place on the same stage where civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech 47 years ago to the day, a coincidence that has caused controversy.

It wouldn’t seem to be a coincidence, and at this point you have to wonder what’s so controversial about a rally to inspire honor and dignity on the spot where Dr. King delivered his inspirational speech. But WaPo tells you in so many words, by noting the crowd was “overwhelmingly white.” (Cue reader to be race conscious.) Also…

The crowd, consisting of many from the Midwest and the South, was not visibly angry.

There were probably many from other parts of the country, too, but that line is another cue to think stereotypes.

Sarah Palin’s participation in Beck’s rally, no matter what she said, was sure to draw the most attention. And at last check, media stories (including this WaPo one) ran video of her on their front page. Her early comments:

Palin said she was speaking not as a politician, but as the mother of a combat veteran. Evoking the legacies of King, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, Palin called on Americans to restore traditional values to the country.

“We must not fundamentally transform America, as some would want,” Palin said. “We must restore America and restore her honor.”

“Here today, at the crossroads of our history, may this day be the change point,” Palin said. “Look around you. You’re not alone. You are Americans! You have the same steel spine and the moral courage of Washington and Lincoln and Martin Luther King. It is in you. It will sustain you as it sustained them.”

So now the focus goes to the “counter-demonstration” nearby, starting with a quote from one attendee “who arrived early to show her opposition to Beck.”

“If we hadn’t elected a black president, do you think they would be doing this today?” she asked.

Why inject race and controversy into a day of reflection and inspiration? But there’s more here…

[Baltimore resident Tehuti] Imhotep shouted at passersby: “This is our real history. [Beck’s] trying to redefine the civil rights movement. How insensitive! King was about bringing people together. This man Beck is pulling people apart.” 

How? Dr. King’s niece, civil rights activist Dr. Alveda King, was a featured speaker at Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally, the article doesn’t note.

Fox News did a live interview at the “Reclaim the Dream” rally with the Dunbar High School principal, a very thoughtful man who had nothing but positive words about encouraging students to achieve honor by setting and pursuing noble goals.

I’m hearing the same message in both groups, and wish they would get together.

Social justice with love

There’s been plenty of controversy around the issue of ‘social justice’ in political news lately, which is only catching up with the longstanding controversy surrounding it in the Church world. I’ve written and spoken many times about the false dichotomy between the ‘peace and social justice crowd’ and the ‘pro-life crowd’ in the Church, as if there’s an either/or distinction instead of both/and.

Cardinal Francis George seems to be in the thick of it with controversies as one of the (if not ‘the’) pre-eminent American prelates. He’s president of the US bishops conference, a job laden with responsibilities like engaging politicians and presidents over social policies and their adherence to the moral law on which this country was founded, the one that recognizes the sanctity and dignity of all human life as the foundation for all other rights. He’s the Archbishop of Chicago and has taken heat from all sides at different times for a decision (or lack of one) groups of Catholics and even the press have criticized. Sometimes those controversies involved Rev. Michael Pfleger, and that was the case again this week, when the Cardinal honored him at a peace and social justice award ceremony.

The next day Cardinal Francis George’s address was posted on the Archdiocese of Chicago’s website. Here is Cardinal George’s reflection delivered at the’ Dr. King Prayer Service and Racial Justice Awards.’

“For it was by hope that we were saved; but if we see what we hope for, then it is not really hope.  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

How can we see something not yet here?  We must look with eyes filled with love.  “Because we know that in all things, God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.”

If we look with eyes filled with God’s love, then we see all those whom he loves, for God’s love is universal.  Those who give themselves to working for racial justice in the Church and the world dedicate themselves to seeing that the reach of God’s love is reflected in the way we treat each other across racial and cultural divides.  The temptation can be to work for justice apart from love, but then justice becomes itself a formula for oppression.  Justice without love is destructive, as Marxist societies, founded on equality and social justice alone, teach the world.

The awardees this evening are here because they love beyond racial and cultural divides.  This is true for all—for Bishop Perry, Michael Rabbitt, Elena Segura, Sr. Kathleen Tait, Phyllis Winter—and also for Fr. Michael Pfleger.  If the list did not include Fr. Pfleger, I would hazard to guess that the media interest tonight would be much reduced.  Fr. Pfleger has been a controversialist; and controversy is easier to report on than is love.  Fr. Plfeger has spoken in anger, sometimes unjustly or uncharitably; and anger is easier to capture on the camera than is love.  But Fr. Pfleger is a Catholic priest and a pastor, and in that capacity, like all good priests and pastors, he acts out of love.  Ask his people.  Ask the sick he has visited and the dying he has attended.  Ask the troubled he has consoled.  Ask the young people he has counseled and the school children he has supported.

As part of his ministry for racial justice, Fr. Pfleger has addressed killing, for killing is not an act of love.  We are surrounded by killing on the streets and in the schools, by violence in homes and by abortion that kills a child in its mother’s womb.  The killing of the unborn is obviously a racial justice issue when disproportionately those killed before birth come from families of racial minorities.  Abortion kills.  It kills an unborn child, and it often kills a mother’s spirit.  It kills a society that embraces it as a personal right.  Abortion kills social and racial justice.

Because they love God and all God’s people, those honored tonight are signs of hope for all of us.  I congratulate them and thank them.

For some reason, one of my favorite quotes of Dr. Martin Luther King’s just came to mind. “The end of life is not to achieve pleasure or avoid pain. The end of life is to do the will of God, come what may.”