We all have seen the images out of Charlottesville, and the hatred that seems to have moved out of the shadow and into the streets in the past several months. Yet, this darkness has always been there – simmering – waiting for an open door, and seems to have found one of late. And yet as Christians, we know that there is no darkness that the light of Christ cannot overcome, no hate that is more powerful than God’s love. It is this truth, this hope that was carried out into the streets in Washington, DC on Monday, August 28 as part of the 1000 Ministers March for Justice.
I joined with thousands of clergy colleagues from all across the country to stand up for justice, give voice to the oppressed, and make it clear that we will not be silent in the face of hate. The date was chosen by the National Action Network, which organized the march, as it was the 54th Anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Dream” speech, and appropriately the day began with a rally in the shadow of the his memorial. I was able to spend some time at the memorial, and felt it so very appropriate that the large sculpture of this modern-day prophet loomed so very large, and its unfinished appearance was a visceral reminder that the work he died for is still unfinished to this day – the dream is yet unfulfilled. With that in my mind and heart, I rejoined the pre-march rally.
At the rally, I was deeply moved by the passion and commitment of the speakers and those who had gathered. Walking among the crowd, I met so many people – rabbis, pastors, priests – some of whom had travelled across many miles, to stand for justice and peace.
Rabbi Jonah Pesner, the Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and Senior Vice President of the Union for Reform Judaism, was one of the speakers. He challenged and inspired us saying, “We all need one another, now more than ever, and our country desperately needs us to bring it from darkness and indifference to light and justice. We will not be indifferent when voter suppression laws directly target Souls to the Polls efforts in majority black churches. We will not be indifferent when a Jewish woman of color fears for the safety of her children. We will not be indifferent when a young man is at risk of losing his essential health care. We will not be indifferent when take-home wages hold millions in poverty or when mass incarceration rips apart millions of American families. We will not be indifferent when transgender Americans are denied the chance to serve their country. We will not be indifferent when a sheriff sworn to protect the community abuses the law and preys upon people instead. We will not be indifferent because we believe so deeply in the power of people of faith to act together and transform our society. We will not be indifferent because we know that when we stand with one another, when we love one another as neighbors, then we can hold our leaders accountable to a higher moral vision that transcends any political party and any political moment, and redeem the soul of our nation.” (Read his full remarks.)
Just after 12 PM, it was time to take to the streets and march. The energy and passion was infectious, and my heart was filled with hope to take in what seemed to be an endless sea of faith leaders singing, praying, and chanting as we walked the mile and a half from the King memorial to the Department of Justice. I walked with the Sisters of Mercy for Justice, with a group of Methodist pastors, with a Lutheran pastor, alongside the Nuns on the Bus, Episcopalians from New Jersey, Maryland, Ohio, and scores of other people from many faiths and many places. There were signs that read “Black Lives Matter to THIS Rabbi,” “Love Thy Neighbor,” “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty!” and the one I carried, “Hate has no home here!” Along the way, we passed tourists who cheered us on as we marched in the shadow of government buildings and monuments.
When we arrived at the Department of Justice, we crowded around the building in solidarity. There was a surprise for us all too, because the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King, III (son of the late Dr. King) were there to speak to the large crowd. Their words, joined with those of others throughout the day, became part of our collective call – that we will never be silent in the face of oppression of our brothers and sisters, and that discrimination against any one of them affects every one of us. LGBT, Black, White, Male, Female, all cultures, all faiths – all are part of the mosaic of humanity. We stood up as well for the care and protection of our earth, entrusted to us by our Creator, and called upon the government to act on the science of climate change. We challenged ourselves and the nation to rise up in love, remembering the words of Dr. King: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that."
As I limped (due to a foot issue) back to the parking garage to my car, a Pedi cab operator called out to me, offering a free ride – “I want to give back! I want to help too!” My heart smiled.
Experiencing all of this gave me great hope for what is possible in the face of the darkness that has spread across this land. As we heard often on this day, this march is a reminder of these words of the Rev. Theodore Parker, paraphrased often by Dr. King, “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe. The arc is a long one. My eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by experience of sight. I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.” Indeed, I believe it does, and that with God’s help, we will rise up in love, drowning out the hate, the fear, the bigotry, and the violence that has infected the soul of this nation, and in its place, lay a strong foundation of love and peace.