Monday, January 17, 2011

2011.01.17 Martin Luther King/Jonathan Myrick Daniels

Most everyone knows of Martin Luther King but few know of Jonathan Myrick Daniels. King, after much lobbying, has his day on the national calendar. Daniels has his place of honor on the Episcopal Church Calendar commemorating holy men and women. ( We don’t make saints.)

Daniels, 26, a seminarian at Episcopal Divinity School went in 1963 to Alabama to help King and others march for freedom. He went because of his Christian faith. King organized the movement because of his religious faith.

King was assassinated. Daniels was shot outside a store just after he and 16 year old Ruby Sales were released from jail for their activist activities. Daniels fell onto Ruby and took the bullet that took his life.

Religious faith has been under assault on and off for centuries. Religion is a set of beliefs, values, and practices that both holds us together and stretches us. Religion names and tries to follow the Divine mystery no one understands but many people experience and bear witness to all the same.

I have been reading a book called “In Defense of Faith. The Judeo-Christian Idea and the Struggle for Humanity” by David Brog, Executive Director of Christians United for Israel (CUFI) attorney and former chief of staff to Senator Arlen Specter.

I am not a fan of Brog's organization's pro-Israeli politics in relation to the Palestininan situation but I like the way he frames the struggle to create and insure a society in which the sanctity and equality of all humans is respected. I would hope he would include Palestinians under this umbrella rubric.

One of the baptismal promises in the Episcopal prayer book is to respect the dignity of all human beings. (I include the whole created order.) Daniels lost his life fulfilling that promise.

Belief in the sanctity of humanity and equality, or at least equivalence, of human beings is what Brog calls the Judeo-Christian idea, stemming from biblical wisdom and lying at the center of both religious traditions. (Not that such an idea isn’t a core value for all religious traditions.)

Religion and faith in God have been blamed for hatred, war and bloodshed. Brog chronicles history to disprove this accusation, and further to prove and document its opposite: the Judeo-Christian core value/idea has been responsible for leading the fight to save not destroy humanity.

The Christian influence, impetus and passion fueled the Civil Rights movement but that is only one example. Brog quotes James Reston writing in the New York Times, August 29, 1963 about the marches on D.C.in support of the Kennedy civil rights legislation.

IT IS NO GOOD WAITING FOR A POLITICAL REACTION IN CONGRESS, FOR IF THERE IS NO EFFECTIVE MORAL REACTION OUT IN THE COUNTRY, THERE WILL BE NO POLITICAL REACTION HERE.

THIS WHOLE MOVEMENT FOR EQUALITY IN AMERICAN LIFE WILL HAVE TO RETURN TO FIRST PRINCIPLES BEFORE IT WILL “OVERCOME” ANYTHING. AND AS MORAL PRINCIPLES PRECEDED AND INSPIRED POLITICAL PRINCIPLES IN THIS COUNTRY, AS THE CHURCH PRECEDED CONGRESS, SO THERE WILL HAVE TO BE A MORAL REVULSION TO THE HUMILIATION OF THE NEGRO BEFORE THERE CAN BE SIGNIFICANT POLITICAL RELIEF.


I find Reston's wisdom compelling today. Where and for whom is our moral revulsion being stoked? How, in King’s and Daniels’ memory, will we fulfill our religious creeds and moral ideals?

(Perhaps demand action to integrate immigrants, or the mentally ill? We all desire freedom and safety for all? And the Earth must breathe!)

Wake up religion. Time to tune in and step up. Time to cooperate with like-minded seculars for the common good.