This Martin Luther King Jr. weekend was different in a subtle but important way, or so I perceived it. Two major addresses by President Joe Biden set the tone, The first at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta marking the first time a sitting U.S. president has delivered remarks from the pulpit once occupied by Dr. King, and the other at the annual breakfast of the National Action Network in Washington D.C.
The slight shift in emphasis put the issue of values more to the front. Dr. King’s commitment to civil rights and subsequent achievements in that direction were, it was stressed, based on moral commitments, and not simply the recognized need for greater justice. Morality is something that a human being embodies as a personal style of relating to the world, and for Dr. King, it was at the heart of his social message.
There is no time when this focus has needed to be emphasized more than now, when the nation and the entire world, remains in the throes of a fitful moral chaos, unleashed during the last half dozen years by the elevation to the White House of an organized criminal enterprise.
The dissembling efforts by devotees of that wider enterprise, with many in the major media in lock step, have been taken to muddy these waters by claiming a moral equivalency between the systematic lying, cheating and injustice of the criminal Trump enterprise, typified by its theft and concealment of huge amounts of classified documents, and the inadvertent appearance of a small amount of such documents held by Biden.
There is no moral equivalency, period. The media have been played, yet again, by purveyors of evil to blind the public to the clear and obvious fact that the Trump organized criminal enterprise continues to drive the democratic underpinnings of the nation toward ruin.
Ladies and gentlemen, it cannot be stressed enough that what threatens our freedom and commitment to fair play, our very character as a people and individually, is not a tussle between rival political parties. It perhaps used to be, but not so the last half dozen years or more, at least. It is now a battle between good and evil, and the evil side always tries to escape accountability by contending it is no worse than the forces it is dedicated to ruining.
We as a nation have come through an extended period when basic morality took a back seat to this kind of obfuscation. But everything about our shared Abrahamic moral tradition, shared by Muslims, Christians and Jews, has pointed to the vital importance of recognizing and resisting a word we are wont to resort to in these “secular” and “modern” times: Evil. That is, witting and willing actions to harm others, always begun by denying the truth, by insisting on things like the fact, for example, that a clear election outcome is a lie.
These lies, including by the obvious sociopath from New York that Republicans have now embraced in Congress, represent one thing: any lie is an assault on all its victims. There are no “harmless” lies. Lying requires harm being brought to all who are hurt by believing or accepting it. Lying is a profound affront to society, as a whole, and those who are disenfranchised by the acceptance of it.
We now live in a culture where lying is considered just another political tool and not a horrible transgression. How did we get to this point? How will it be stopped?
We need to be reminded that the most oft-repeated faith affirmation in all shades of the Christian tradition is a petition, known as the Lord’s Prayer, to be “delivered from evil.” Evil exists. We are all susceptible to its devious ways, not just as imposed from without, but as individuals are prone to allowing it to take over their own internal thoughts and behaviors, as well. For the person striving honestly to be a moral person, with a compass directed to integrity, the disposition to reject evil has to be a full-time proposition.
Dr. King knew this, too. The holiday in his name calls us to a solemn commitment to resist evil.