Hundreds of religious leaders of various faiths have descended on the US Justice Department to mark Martin Luther King’s historic March on Washington in 1963. The peaceful protesters had an uplifting message.
When Reverend Al Sharpton, the Baptist minister from New York and organizer of Monday’s Ministers March for Justice in Washington, announced an interfaith rally six weeks ago to commemorate Martin Luther King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech given 54 years ago, what Sharpton and the religious leaders gathered here consider the moral failure of President Donald Trump and his government may have been already apparent.
But in any case, the recent events in Charlottesville where a woman was killed during a rally organized by extreme right groups and Trump’s widely condemned reaction to it only increased what one speaker at today’s march – referencing Martin Luther King – called “the fierce urgency of now.”
“After the events of Charlottesville it is even more urgent that we gather from all over the country and all over the world across religious lines to protest against hatred and bigotry, racism and anti-Semitism and to stand for justice, love and compassion in this society,” said Rabbi Chava Bahle from Traverse City, Michigan, who heads a Unitarian congregation there.
While Charlottesville and the president’s apparent equivocation of the extreme right and counterprotesters may have provided a fresh impetus to travel to Washington, she would have made the trip anyway, said Bahle, since she had promised her congregation that she would heed any call by clergy to stand together.
‘You can do better’
Reverend Gary Waters of Living Word Ministry in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania shared the sentiment that Trump and his behavior had increased the urgency for ministers to speak out. “Personally, I do not hate Donald Trump. But there are things that just don’t add up with what’s going on with our president,” he said. “I am not against you, Trump, but you can do better.”
Waters, who is 65 and still remembers seeing Martin Luther King’s March on Washington as an 11-year-old boy, is also not shy to point out what he considers the failure of society to live up to King’s dream of equality and justice for all.
“We need to get a better hold of our children, we need to get a better hold of our political system, a better hold of our justice system. King did a great job, but we need to raise up new Kings.”
For Ken Howard, an Episcopalian minister from Germantown, Maryland, his disagreement with Trump is simple. “I am not against Trump because he is a Republican. It boils down that he only cares about himself and that he does not possess a moral compass,” he said.
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Prominent speakers criticize Trump
The various prominent speakers at the march, among them Sharpton and Reverend Jesse Jackson, also criticized Trump for what they viewed as his moral failings to look after the poor and disenfranchised and instead side with bigots and racists.
“Jesus would not qualify to come to Trump’s country,” said Jackson in reference to the president’s anti-immigrant stance, “but Trump would not qualify for Jesus’ kingdom.”
Sharpton lashed out against the Trump administration’s efforts to “take health care away” and to militarize police departments, but also had a direct message for the president: “Mr. Trump: What you have not figured out is that you will unite us.”
Martin Luther King III, the oldest son of the slain civil rights leader and one of the last speakers, nicely summed up the uplifting spirit of the gathering when he said: “If there ever was a time to stand up for justice, it is now.”
Only hours before Martin Luther King III would speak in Washington, a new statue of his father was unveiled on the Georgia State Capitol grounds in his hometown of Atlanta, viewed by many at Monday’s march as a welcome and extremely positive sign amid heated discussions elsewhere about Confederate monuments.