“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Today we worshipped at St. James Episcopal Church, Portsmouth Virginia where I attend when I am at home. It had been a while since we attended with my assignment at Camp LeJeune and battles with weather and illness during the past month. However today we made it and it was good as we remembered the life and message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
St. James is the historic African American Episcopal Parish in Portsmouth. Many of the families in the parish trace their Episcopal Church roots back to the days before the Civil War and the years following. As such they were pioneers in the advancement of African Americans serving as educators, doctors and in the military when discrimination in the form of Jim Crow Laws, “separate but equal” schools, churches, hospitals, public restrooms, places in restaurants, public transportation and so many other things that we consider absolutely part of daily life today. Blacks were subject to legalized harassment, literacy tests in order to vote as well as lynching by those well intentioned upstanding members of such groups as the Ku Klux Klan.
The most of the members of St. James are more elderly and veterans of the Civil Rights movement and remember the times when they suffered while fighting for the rights that we so freely take for granted. The newer generation is mixed between their descendants as well as immigrants from Nigeria. I fell in love with this parish when the pastor Fr John invited me back in 2009 when I was still struggling in the midst of PTSD and a crisis in faith and belief. I owe a lot to Fr. John and the dear people of St. James for the way that they welcomed us and helped in my journey to the rediscovery of faith.
Father Green who was called on short notice due to illness of our pastor’s wife had known Dr King and gave a remembrance of Dr. King’s early ministry going back to meeting him while they were seminary students. Father Green had us join together and link arms as a congregation around the sanctuary as we sang “We Shall Overcome.”
The marking of Dr. King’s birthday this year in the shadow of the deep division and hatred that the country is engulfed in caused me to think about the importance of Dr. King’s message, not only for the cause of Civil Rights for minorities and others who are discriminated against, but the larger message of peace and reconciliation.
Dr. King died by an assassin’s bullet, James Earl Ray, a man who had a history of crime as well as a long established prejudice against African Americans who was a volunteer for the campaign of segregationist Governor George Wallace’s presidential campaign. The climate of the country in large part was one of prejudice and often hatred of what was represented by Dr. King. However the response of Dr. King to multiple death threats as well as incarceration for breaking laws which were rooted in the evil of segregation and discrimination was that of peace and reconciliation, love over hate which is of the essence of the Christian faith.
Dr King said something that is so applicable to our own deeply divided society where hatred is legitimatized by purveyors of hate. In the wake of the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords last Saturday there was an epidemic of heated and often hateful rhetoric with conservatives and liberals alike seeking to label a madman as belonging to the other side it became readily apparent to me that unless we lay down the hate that we will destroy each other and the country. Dr. King said this in words that I cannot hope to match.
“Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies – or else? The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.”