A number of people have asked so I’m publishing my remarks from the Lights for Liberty Vigil held in Kingston on July 12, 2019. The Lights for Liberty Vigil was a nationwide effort aimed at denouncing the detention camps and demanding the release of the people held inside. For more information: lightsforliberty.org
Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless.
Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.
This is an often-used quote from a German theologian named Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was an extremely outspoken critic for 14 years, while the Nazis ran his country. He was forbidden from speaking and teaching, he was imprisoned and tortured, and eventually killed a month before Nazi Germany surrendered.
When I think about his life, I’m sure there were moments during those long 14 years, when he must have felt discouraged. A sense that things were getting worse, not better. But it seems that there was something in him that did not lose hope. Because he kept speaking. He kept acting. He did not remain silent.
This is, of course, also true of the great American the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. One who most of us know better in the US – as the leader of the Civil Rights Movement for 13 years until he was assassinated in 1968.
He said: Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
He said: You have very little morally persuasive power with people who can feel your underlying contempt.
He said: Let no person pull you low enough to hate him.
He said: Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
Now, love is a word used in so many ways for so many reasons. But the love that Rev. Dr. King spoke about is the same love that held Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s hope. This place inside that never dies because it is the light. We were born with this light and we carry this light with us.
I believe we were formed specifically for this purpose – to use our skills and our intellect and our bodies and our resources and our hearts in service to this light. This is where we find our source of love and our source of hope. And when we move in the world from this place, we become love in action.
Because it is this light that makes us human. It is this light that is never silent in the face of evil. And it is this light which we are called to nurture and to cultivate now.
Because a great darkness has infected us: our communities, our nation. And it is the darkness of white supremacy lived out through the violence of systemic racism.
It’s not new. It’s been brewing for ages and ages. And it’s based in fear – the fear that what I have must be protected.
And when power arises out of fear, the result is violence. And it’s a long, long list of violence in our land.
The slaughter of Native Americans.
The doctrine of Manifest Destiny.
The institution of slavery.
School to prison pipeline.
Prison industrial complex.
The war economy.
Family separation; abuse and neglect.
Private detention camps.
These are immoral systems and practices that are all interrelated because they all arise from and serve fear. And they are all violent. They are designed to do nothing but profit from violence. And they accomplish nothing except to de-humanize every one of us. Resulting in a lack of willpower and an apathetic spirit that refuses to challenge these systems of violence is. Which is, in itself, a form of violence.
And if we are to change this system, then we all have work to do. But I’m speaking now especially my white brothers and sisters – all of us who have benefitted from racist policies, practices, and systems. We have to be honest about this. We have to own this if we are ever going to change what we have created.
This is about our moral core as a nation. This is about our very souls. This is about this light that we have been born into by the very fact that we are alive – breathing and moving and being. And about the fear that, if we’re honest, we all have that this will be taken from us in some way. But that notion is bullshit. Because the light can never be taken away.
It’s easy to decry the policies of this administration. It’s low-hanging fruit. As a matter of fact, it’s satisfying to have someone to blame. But it’s a red herring, a distraction.
This president is not the first racist to hold that office. This is not the first time we’ve locked people of color in prisons en masse for no reason at all. This administration is not the first administration of violence we’ve seen. This whole show of violence and ego is a symptom of the infection of white supremacy
But the challenge to us is to see that it’s up to us. Change must come from us. And for change to come from us, we must be willing to change.
And, especially as the campaigns ramp up, we must refuse to look for a messiah political candidate that will save us, returning us to a state of consumeristic calm. Instead, we must realize that we can be a movement that will transform our nation into what it was truly intended to be. A place where everyone is free.
A freedom that is not about self-satisfaction and indulgence, but a freedom that is established in a practice of a greater love that connects us all one to another. That is true freedom.
We must not let anyone take us down to where we hate.
We must love. We must become love incarnate.
Our power must be based in love.
Our action must come from love.
Our spirit must be one of love.
Our unity must be founded in love.
Our strength must be deepened by love.
Our eyes must be looking for love.
Our souls must be soaked in love.
Our voices must be vehicles of love.
And our freedom must be established in love.