The depth of racial reckoning taking place today, which has stirred the conscience of citizens everywhere, has created an historic opportunity for meaningful change.
However, the massive societal change required must be informed by an overarching principle, otherwise there can be no genuine revolution of values and no real and lasting change.
In his 1967 sermon at Riverside Church – well worth the time to look up and read in its entirety – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said:
Every nation must develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies. This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind. This oft misinterpreted concept, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man.
Thus Dr. King’s “oft misinterpreted concept” – the oneness of all humanity – provides the central pivot round which all other genuine revolutions of values must take place.
The oneness of all humanity is the central pivot of the Baha’i teachings.
Dr. King was a visionary who knew how build into his sermons messages that both inspired and warned. One example is whenever he quoted Amos 5:24 – “Let Justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” – he knew the preceding Biblical verses denounced the nation of Israel and informed them that the coming of the Lord would herald their destruction.
In his sermon at Riverside Church, exactly one year before his death, compelled by an ever-growing sense of urgency, King decided to make explicit what he had implied previously: the warning that if America did not use her vast resources of wealth to end war and poverty and make it possible for all of God’s children to have the basic necessities of life, she will die. He said:
True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. … A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
King’s words, preached more than 50 years ago, remain sadly relevant in America today, where extremism is on the rise, racism and misogyny are increasingly mainstreamed, and power and wealth are sequestered by a tiny elite class while many at the bottom of society struggle to access what they need to survive.
King’s voice of prophetic fire condemned America and the world for failing to respect the dignity and worth of all human beings. For King’s dream to be realized, he said that much of what America holds dear, including the lies we Americans value regarding our collective righteousness, must be committed to the flames, and a new world founded on justice and love must come into being.
The Baha’i teachings proclaim that we live today in an age of great transition – one destined to give birth to that new world founded on justice and love. In his 1941 book The Promised Day is Come, Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, gave the same essential warning Dr. King echoed a quarter-century later:
The ages of humanity’s infancy and childhood are past, never again to return, while the Great Age, the consummation of all ages, which must signalize the coming of age of the entire human race, is yet to come. A tempest, unprecedented in its violence, unpredictable in its course, catastrophic in its immediate effects, unimaginably glorious in its ultimate consequences, is at present sweeping the face of the earth. These great oppressions are preparing us for the advent of the Most Great Justice, the Justice upon which the structure of the Most Great Peace can alone rest. An universal and lasting peace, in which the discord and separation of the children of men will have given way to the worldwide reconciliation, and the complete unification of the divers elements that constitute human society.
Buoyed by the Creator’s promise of a glorious future, as embodied in the Baha’i teachings, we can each work for justice in our own circle of influence, secure in the knowledge that our efforts will hasten the transition to a new world.