[Originally published in Unity Magazine Jan/Feb 2022 issue. Photo from honoringmlk.com]
Were he still alive, Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr. would be celebrating his 93rd birthday on January 15th. The 3rd Monday of January is designated as a federal holiday in observance of King’s birthday. Although initially opposed, President Ronald Reagan eventually signed it into law in 1983, and the holiday was first observed in 1986.
There is no disputing King’s role in history as the face and voice of the American civil rights movement. And boy, do we love to quote him! In New Thought, his quotes on love hold a special place for us. In numerous services and publications, and not just around Martin Luther King Jr Day, we often hear and read the following: “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”; “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”; “Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.” He too saw Love as both a divine quality and a divine imperative.
In a recent Unity Magazine feature (Sep/Oct 2021), I said that white privilege lies under the tendency for some of us to spiritually bypass. We use principles like, “It’s all in Divine Order” or “God doesn’t see color” as excuses to stay disengaged. We tend to bypass Rev. King as well. How often have we heard the following in our churches: “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”; “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”; “...the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not… the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”; “...there comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right.”
For many “good white moderate[s]”, that time was the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. They found their voices, and began to address King’s concerns of negative peace. They were no longer willing to passively accept the ongoing evil of systemic racism and took to the streets around the globe. And for the first time in many New Thought churches, ministers and congregants risked being political and unpopular, even more than after the 2016 election. We began to recognize our complicity. We stepped up and into the challenge of difficult and uncomfortable conversations of what we actually do, not just hold in intention, to be the change we want to create.
It’s a good start, and let’s be clear, it’s only just that: a start. The work isn’t done because we created new vision and mission statements dedicated to diversity and inclusion, or held a few book groups. Changing a culture (including ourselves and our churches) that has been centered in whiteness for centuries will take time. Dr King reminded us that, “The ultimate measure of a [person] is not where [they stand] in moments of comfort and convenience, but where [they stand] at times of challenge and controversy.” What’s your measure? Where will you stand?
A few days after publication, a reader from a Unity church emailed me: “I see here in your column on page 15 in Unity Magazine ‘That the work isn't done because we created new vision and mission statements dedicated to diversity and inclusion or held a few book groups…’ I think we at [church] did those things... Do you have any new specific ideas/suggestions about what else we at [church] could do at this time?” (To honor privacy I removed the name of the church)
Yes, there are many things to do both individually and as organization. Before sharing them however, remember that when, as a white person, you ask BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) folk, you are placing an additional burden on us. Our ongoing struggles to survive and thrive as minorities in America are compounded when we are asked to help you fix the cultural norms that you inherently benefit from. Answers to what you should do to be antiracist are easily found with a google search.
That being said, as co-founder of project_SANCTUS, I’ve made it my work to be a resource. I also don’t need to reinvent the wheel. The following list (adapted & edited) comes from the book “Nice Racism: How Progressive White People Perpetuated Racial Harm” by Dr. Robin DiAngelo, a white antiracist author writing to a white audience. These suggestions are for both individuals and organizations:
At project_SANCTUS we host monthly affinity groups, and we are leading a book study of Dr Robin DiAngelo’s “Nice Racism.” If you are truly dedicated to the work of antiracism, please join us.