Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of the 1963 march on Washington in the U.S. This march galvanized the country around the issue of civil rights and made the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. into a national icon. Fifty years later, it stands as an unprecedented display of ecumenical cooperation by bringing together Catholic, Jewish and Protestant leaders. The Religion News Service put together an outstanding site where they asked participants to reflect on their lasting memories of the march and how it shaped their faith. I encourage you to read it as the stories are very moving.
Also, I want to briefly mention another Civil Rights event from 1963, Dr. King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail. I will have a more detailed reflection on this during Martin Luther King Day in the U.S. next January, but I want to quote one of the best lines from that letter which highlights Christian moral law:
[T]here are two types of laws: there are just laws, and there are unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “An unjust law is no law at all.” Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law, or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. To use the words of Martin Buber, the great Jewish philosopher, segregation substitutes an “I – it” relationship for the “I – thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. So segregation is not only politically, economically, and sociologically unsound, but it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Isn’t segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, an expression of his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness?”
On this anniversary, let us reflect on laws are currently in effect and daily actions we do (especially the legal ones) that change the I-though relationship into an I-it relationship.