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In his favorite sermon, “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life,” Martin Luther King Jr.’s emphasis was on the most inclusive end – variety and depth in our choice of values. He tried to live a coherent life in which the widest possible range of values was realized. Hence, he selected values embracing diversity and difference and expressing the ecumenical and pluralistic.
King would be for President Obama’s repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” because this law demonizes honesty. He would be for gay rights, because the United States Constitution is for expanding rights, not limiting them.
This is deep freedom, the democratic right to self definition.
King stressed that you cannot legislate or vote human rights out of existence, because they have a different sanction than civil rights. Civil rights are sanctioned by the state or government, but human rights are sanctioned by human need, human nature, human biology, and, indeed, ‘nature’s God.’
King always looked ahead to the consequences of the choices before him and chose according. Present acts always reverberate in the future. King’s teacher at Boston University, Edgar Sheffield Brightman said, “The means used in our choices eventually echo in the halls of history.”
In his speech at New York City’s Riverside Church, given April 4, 1967, on why he opposed the war in Vietnam, King was deeply concerned about what American bombs and napalm were doing to the rice fields of Vietnam, the primary means of livelihood for the Vietnamese people. But peering into the halls of history, he was equally concerned about connectivity with nature as value and our responsibility for ecological wholeness. All planetary citizens ought to perceive themselves as integral parts of intrinsically-valued nature, and thus assume stewardship for the ecosystem by carrying out the demands of the earth charter.
King’s ecumenical ministry for twelve-and-a-half years on a national and international scale was oriented to everybody’s self-realization. He sought to enhance each person’s potential without degrading the potential of any racial, religious or national group. His goal was to maximize the realization of value in harmony with his Christian social ethical principles. Hence, in his practice of altruism, he sought to assist in the realization of maximum value in all people, respecting all persons as ends in themselves with due respect for their dignity as autonomous centers of inherent value.
This requires imagining and feeling yourself in someone else’s shoes, and it means developing the capacity to respect the humanity of everyone, even your oppressors. King wanted to cooperate with others in the production and enjoyment of shared values.
When King popularized Theodore Parker’s statement, “the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice,” he was giving us a clue that the highest levels of spirituality are affirmative cooperation, harmony, mutual value creation and reverence for life in our bodies, in society and in the cosmos.
When we experience the virtues of cooperation and value creation in our bodies we call that health, in society we call that civilization, and in the cosmos we are able to experience the four seasons, night and day, and name the constellations. This mutual cooperation among peoples and from humans to the earth is the foundation of global community.
King had a strong capacity for cross communal affiliation. As a moral cosmopolitan, he said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” He was encouraging us not to put a strait jacket around our morality and always think about the best interest of all nations.
For King, the goal was serving the best interest of the beloved world community and subordinating personal gain to social gain. He was aware of the interrelatedness of all life. Cultivating the advancement of the global community means, at its best, critical, creative, responsible, loyal participation beyond all boundaries. Loyalty to the world as one planetary community (overcoming tribalism) requires global solidarity, cooperation, dialogue, holistic appreciation of cultures, the balance of personal and social transformation, diversity, positive change, enhancement of the rights of all beings, affirmation of religious freedom and the positive role of all ideals.
When King spoke of the positive value of “creative tension” and said that we need not fear hostile disagreement, he was expressing his belief that resolving conflict through affirmation leads to a reconciliation rooted in justice, compromising policy, not principle. This creates a win-win situation, not I win you lose.
King’s “worldhouse” concept necessitates our living by the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is the only way we will be able to experience nonviolent co-existence rather than violent co-annihilation. Herein lies our peace and our sustainable hope, that we will be able to grow up into democracy’s crown.
Lawrence Edward Carter is Chapel Dean at Morehouse College.