Tag Archives: Martin Luther King Jr.

The Struggle for Rights in the USA continues

AUGUST 23, 2013.  Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno
  • Woman holds a sign during the 50th anniversary commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, at the Lincoln Memorial.
    © 2013 Reuters

I didn’t grow up in the United States. But one of the things I value most about living here is that all around me there is an active dialogue—sometimes heated, often frustrating, but almost always robust and open—about rights. People talk freely about gender, race, sexual orientation, economic inequality. And they don’t question that, if they speak up, they can change things for the better.

But neither that freedom nor that self-confidence would be possible if not for the efforts of people who, in more difficult times, insisted on building a more just society.

On Saturday, I will be joining thousands of marchers ata rally to commemorate the 50thanniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, when hundreds of thousands of people converged on the National Mall in the name of equal rights for all. I also will have the honor to say a few words.

The US has made real progress in the past 50 years. But it still has a long way to go to ensure human rights for all. This country has the largest reported prison population in the world. People of color are disproportionately likely to be arrested, and to be imprisoned for drug crimes. Too many migrants live in fear of being torn away from their families, and are easy prey for those who would abuse their rights. The poverty rate, which is bound up with other inequities, has actually risen in recent decades.

Fear of terrorism has paved the way for other erosions of rights, of both citizens and non-citizens, including theindefinite detention without trial of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, and mass surveillance. Those responsible for devising and implementing a government torture program have never been investigated, let alone prosecuted. The list goes on.

But there are also reasons for hope. Federal initiatives may yet bring more humanity and fairness to the criminal justice system. For the first time in decades, the country has a shot at meaningful immigration reform.

And perhaps most encouraging, there are still thousands if not millions of people in the US who are engaged in the struggle for rights. Let’s hope that they never give up on doing so.

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Stand Up and be Counted

How sad that today it so often appears that people will not stand up and be counted. Even the Church so often seems to prefer compromise to principle.  Yet it has not always been so.

Little has been said about the role of the churches in the fall of the Iron Curtain. From September to November of 1989 East Germany experienced what became known as the October revolution in which the 40-year-old communist government fell with remarkably little violence. The church played an important role in encouraging the peaceful demonstrations that followed evening prayer services. On October 9 of that year it appeared as if things night get very brutal especially since Erich Honecker ordered a fierce and violent crackdown on the demonstrations.

The Lutheran Bishop warned of a blood bath and doctors cleared hospital wards in order to treat the casualties. The church decided not to cancel the prayer services however and appealed for calm. After the service the demonstrators numbered over 150,000. In a courageous act of defiance and insubordination, Egon Krenz, the politbureau member in charge of security, refused to carry our Honecker’s orders and the demonstration remained peaceful. That night became a turning point in the revolution. Some weeks later demonstrators hung a banner across a Leipzig street: saying Wir Danken Dir Kirche which means Thank You Church.

Sometimes we fail to realize just how important these acts of courage and political and religious defiance can be in the history of the world.

Remember many of these folks who stood up for their beliefs against enormous odds. Thomas More, the 16th century Oxford educated statesman, opposed two of the Kings of his day. He stood up to Henry VII and suffered for his opposition. He then became a favourite of Henry VIII who knighted him and who also often sought his companionship in philosophical conversations. The friendship was not to last!, for when Henry VIII became disenchanted with his wife, Catherine of Aragon he planned to divorce her in clear defiance of the Pope. More decided that his first loyalty was to the church and he was eventually executed by Henry VIII. 400 years later More was canonized by the Catholic Church.

Oliver Tyndale; who translated the Bible from Latin to English. was executed by the Kingdom for doing so.

Martin Luther; confronted the powers of the world with what he perceived was the fundamental truths of Christianity and when attacked was forced to leave the church he loved to start the Protestant Movement.

John Wesley; was condemned for preaching salvation by Grace and almost killed several times, and continually ridiculed for his faith.

Of course there are others: Joan of Arc, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela  all people who stood up to those in power and proclaimed the truth – no matter what the cost.

What is more important: the favour of the world or the integrity of following the way we feel to be the way of God?

The Bible asks us to make a choice: We can be “successful” or we can be like the disciples – and Jesus, —–“significant”, trying to make a difference in spite of the power of this world.

Which is more important? If we are honest with ourselves and with our faith we know the answer.

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