Thinking about Justice

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Berlin on September 12, 1964;  PhotoquestGetty Images

Coffee, aloneness and silence. A perfect time to think! It’s what I need in the morning. I may be running around the rest of the day doing those tasks that most of us have to do. But in the morning, I crave the quiet time that allows me to think.

So here’s what I’m thinking. Since yesterday when we remembered Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I have been pondering a very intriguing article I read about him yesterday in Time Magazine. It was about Dr. King’s 1964 visit to West Berlin.

Now you need to understand this: being a lifelong student of Dr. King’s life and legacy, I should have known about this visit. I did not! According to Time, West Berlin’s Mayor Willy Brandt invited Dr. King to participate in a memorial ceremony for President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated the year before. Simultaneously, Dr. King also received an invitation to speak in East Berlin from Heinrich Grüber, who had been a pastor at a church there and a prisoner in a concentration camp for three years during World War II for openly criticizing the Nazi Party. So it would seem that Dr. King was in the company of leaders who, like him, challenged systemic injustice.

Historian Britta Waldschmidt-Nelson wrote that Grüber had been driven out because of his “anti-government views.” In a letter to Dr. King, Grüber wrote, “I write in the bond of the same faith and hope, knowing your experiences are the same as ours were. During the time of Hitler, I was often ashamed of being a German, as today I am ashamed of being white,” Grüber wrote. “I am grateful to you, dear brother, and to all who stand with you in this fight for justice, which you are conducting in the spirit of Jesus Christ.”

The Time article reported that on Sept. 13, 1964 — two months after the Civil Rights Act was enacted and a month before he won the Nobel Peace Prize — King addressed 20,000 people at a rally at the outdoor stadium Waldbühne in West Berlin. Later, King delivered the same sermon at St. Mary’s Church in East Berlin, which was over its 2,000-person capacity, and then gave another, unscheduled speech to the overflow crowd at Sophia Church, similarly over its 2,000-person capacity.

It is interesting to me, in light of the demagoguery of our day, that standing in the shadow of the Berlin Wall, Dr. King said, “While I am no expert in German politics, I know about walls.”

As always, Dr. King’s eloquence was evident in the words he spoke to East Berliners:

It is indeed an honor to be in this city, which stands as a symbol of the divisions of men on the face of the earth. For here on either side of the wall are God’s children and no man-made barrier can obliterate that fact. Whether it be East or West, men and women search for meaning, hope for fulfillment, yearn for faith in something beyond themselves, and cry desperately for love and community to support them in this pilgrim journey.

As you might expect, the U.S. State Department nervously monitored this visit. Historian Michael P. Steinberg explained the nervousness: “King is determined to cross the wall and see East Berlin, and it’s very clear, at this point, that the U.S. embassy does not want him to do this. They do not want the press.” American officials were particularly concerned as racial violence in the United States was frequently held up within East Germany and the Soviet Union as “an indication of the failure of American society.”

The embassy did confiscate Dr. King’s U.S. passport, hoping that doing so would deter him from crossing into East Berlin. But Dr. King managed to get into East Berlin by flashing his American Express card. 

German scholars have written that the visit was key, not only to raising the Germans’ awareness of the American civil-rights struggle, but also to sow the seeds of non-violent resistance there. Some say it inspired participants in the Prague Spring four years later, as well as the activists who campaigned for the Berlin Wall to be torn down in 1989. 

A final interesting historical fact from Waldschmidt-Nelson: East German opposition movements marched to “We Shall Overcome” in the 1980s.

So there you have it: a little-known story about a very well-known man! And thanks to him for a lasting legacy that continues to inspire us toward justice.

Only Love Can Drive Out Hate

010B6CB7-43B5-47B7-B92B-C87DF5750866It was almost shameful that President Trump on January 12th signed a proclamation honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In all honesty, I cringe at his signing of this proclamation. I cringe because the president honors Dr. King while dishonoring Dr. King’s legacy.

I can imagine that Dr. King’s words echoed through the Oval Office during the signing, in a whisper heard only by persons of love and good will.

If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.”

We’ve learned to fly the air like birds, we’ve learned to swim the seas like fish, and yet we haven’t learned to walk the Earth as brothers and sisters…”

― Martin Luther King, Jr.

I cringe because I heard the words that the president said about “shithole countries.”

Why do we want all these people from Africa here? They’re shithole countries … We should have more people from Norway.

– Donald J. Trump

In his remarks, Mr. Trump, who has vowed to clamp down on illegal immigration, also questioned the need for Haitians in the United States.

Instantly, many Democrats and some Republican lawmakers called out the president. Republican United States Representative Mia Love, a daughter of Haitian immigrants, said the comments were “unkind, divisive, elitist, and fly in the face of our nation’s values,” and she called forTrump to apologize to the American people and to the countries he denigrated.

Another Republican Representative, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who was born in Cuba and whose south Florida district includes many Haitian immigrants, said: “Language like that shouldn’t be heard in locker rooms and it shouldn’t be heard in the White House.”

Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal said the president’s comment “smacks of blatant racism, the most odious and insidious racism masquerading poorly as immigration policy.”

A wave of international outrage also grew against the president’s vulgar language as the president of Ghana, President Nana Akufo-Addo, said that he would “not accept such insults, even from a leader of a friendly country, no matter how powerful.”

The Ghanian president tweeted an unflinching defense of the African continent — and of Haiti and El Salvador, countries that Trump also mentioned in the Thursday meeting with a group of senators at the White House.

In addition to Ghana, the government of Botswana said Trump’s language is “reprehensible and racist,” and said it has summoned the U.S. ambassador to clarify what he meant.

Senegal’s president, Macky Sall, said in a statement that it was “shocking” and that “Africa and the black race merit the respect and consideration of all.” His West African nation has long been praised by the United States as an example of a stable democracy.

The African Union, which is made up of 55 member states, also spoke against Trump’s remarks.”Given the historical reality of how many Africans arrived in the United States as slaves, this statement flies in the face of all accepted behavior and practice,” said spokeswoman Ebba Kalondo.

Paul Altidor, Haiti’s ambassador to the U.S., called Trump’s comments “regrettable” and based on “clichés and stereotypes rather than actual fact.” He also noted the insensitivity of its timing, coming the same week as the eighth anniversary of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, which killed more than 200,000 people.

El Salvador’s government on Friday sent a formal letter of protest to the United States over the “harsh terms detrimental to the dignity of El Salvador and other countries.”

A spokesperson representing the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned President Trump’s “shocking and shameful” comment, saying: “I’m sorry, but there’s no other word one can use but racist.”

On January 13th, The Washington Post published an article by Karen Tumulty that calls out President Trump’s misunderstanding of this nation’s immigration history.

There is far more to the latest controversy surrounding President Trump than the vulgar and implicitly racist language he used to draw a distinction between desirable and undesirable immigrants. Trump’s choice of words also revealed a deeper and more substantive truth about how the president views — and misunderstands — America’s unique relationship with its immigrants.

Trump’s words, with their racial connotations, also suggest he wants to return to what has come to be regarded as one of the more shameful and xenophobic periods of immigration policy.

In 1924, a set of laws was passed that set quotas limiting the number of people admitted to this country based on where they came from, with a goal of preserving the United States’ ethnic homogeneity.

“The premise of national origin quotas was that some countries produce good immigrants, others produce bad immigrants,” said NPR correspondent Tom Gjelten, author of the 2015 book “A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story.”

“There were actually ‘scientific’ studies purporting to categorize countries according to the quality and characteristics of their people, and the quotas were devised in part on the basis of the testimony of ‘expert’ opinion,” Gjelten said.

There are so many voices of reason, voices that cry out for dignity, respect, unity and love, speaking out against the president of the United States. So it is with sadness and shame that I celebrate the day of remembrance for Dr. King. On his day in 2018, I hear more intensely all that he taught us about so many things, and I hear what he shared with us most profoundly — the power of love.

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. So when Jesus says “Love your enemies,” he is setting forth a profound and ultimately inescapable admonition.

― Martin Luther King, Jr., from Strength to Love

This week, I heard a provocative statement: that hate speech is not about who Donald Trump is. Rather, it is about who we are. The statement opened up some questions for me:

How do I respond? What does it mean for me to stand with those who are marginalized?

Is it not my responsibility to stand up to persons in seats of power when they promote hate, racism, xenophobia, exclusion and hostility?”

Will I set my face towards love and my heart towards the world as it is seen through the eyes of Jesus? Is it not up to me to be a part of creating — in our nation and in our world — a “beloved community?”

For “hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.” Was