This afternoon I delivered a benediction for the annual Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration of our local NAACP. Thinking of what to say, I was reminded of how Martin managed to weave together the Republican and Biblical strands of our history, as in his 1963 “Dream” speech.
This may be the sign of great public rhetoric in
. America was a master at combining the two, and the Founding generation employed this technique skillfully, so that even Deists like Thomas Paine could invoke a divine blessing on the Revolution and its outcome, as in his pamphlet The Crisis: Lincoln
I have as little superstition in me as any man living, but my secret opinion has ever been, and still is, that God Almighty will not give up a people to military destruction, or leave them unsupportedly to perish, who have so earnestly and so repeatedly sought to avoid the calamities of war.
The Biblical vocabulary lifts the people’s struggle for freedom above the plane of a naked collision of self-interest, endowing their aspirations for independence with ultimate significance. At the same time, the Republican strain, skeptical and plainspoken, demands that policy choices (war or no war, for instance) have some down-to-earth, secular justification. “Thus sayeth the Lord” is not an argument likely to carry much weight in a pluralistic public square.
Well, with these ruminations in mind, here’s the brief blessing I gave at today’s event:
Grateful for the labors of those past, giants like Martin and Rosa,
Let us be thankful too for the work still to be done,
Grateful that we have an opportunity to serve, to make a difference,
To bring release to the captives and good news to the poor,
To proclaim liberty throughout the land and to build a more perfect union,
A union where every child will have an equal start in life,
A union that invests more in people than in weapons of war,
Where hate has no place
And the scales of justice do not discriminate,
Where those whose sweat and toil built this great land can share equitably in the abundance they helped create,
Where the dreams of the fathers become the children’s realities.
May God bless us in this task and bless the nation this was meant to be.