NEXT week, Americans will be celebrat- ing the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a black leader whose efforts and courage played a pivotal role in the work for civil rights in the United States. There is much global progress in civil rights to celebrate this year, for just a few months ago, South Africans accepted a new charter that provides basic human rights for everyone, no matter what race. In April of this year, people of all races in that country will be allowed to vote. The determination and wisdom exercised on all sides has opened the way to freedoms that seemed impossible to obtain only a few short years ago.
Yet there is also much work to do. Even while obvious forms of racism are re-jected by society, more subtle forms persist, including discrimination both by whites against blacks and by blacks against whites. Asians, American Indians, and other racial groups in the United States and abroad also face--and practice-- racial prejudice.
To say that racism is wrong is to state the obvious. But this isn't much comfort to us when we fear or hate someone of a different color. To overcome these fears, we can find help in the life of Christ Jesus, who pointed beyond personal, racial, religious, and cultural characteristics to the love that God has for everyone.
During Jesus' ministry he met people we might consider outcasts-- lepers, prostitutes, people from despised ethnic groups. He also had some stormy encounters with those within the religious power structure who despised him. Yet he was fearless in every case because his commitment to God, who is impartial divine Love, was so complete.
This commitment enabled him to reveal man's actual spirituality and inseparability from divine Love. In various ways, Jesus' teachings bring out the primacy of Love in all his thoughts and acts. In his Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew's Gospel, Jesus declared, ``Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust'' (5:44, 45).
To me, this passage is saying that we need to let love be the model and motive for all that we do--no matter whom we are doing it to! Yet if we were just struggling beings--as it often seems--who had to do good things on our own, we might find life quite discouraging. This is where getting better acquainted with divine Love helps us. God, Love, isn't just an abstraction--a nice thing to think about from time to time. Jesus proved that Love is a dynamic power that acts on and through our lives. Nor is Love something separate from us that might occasionally check in and see how we are doing. We are all, in fact, the children of God, the children of omnipresent Love.
As members of Love's family, we already have a bond with each other that gives us common ground no matter what color we might be humanly. This bond is our spirituality--the reality that we each are able to express love, intelligence, lawfulness, beauty, and other good qualities because we reflect them from God, our Father. Hatred, fear, anger, bitterness, are not natural to the children of Love.
When we accept this spiritual fact as a reality for ourselves-- quite apart from whatever the world may think--the power of Love begins to wipe out our fears and guide us through whatever challenges we face. We have shifted our view of life from the material mode, in which conflict is the norm, to the spiritual reality, where Love, God, governs all.
Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, states this very well in her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. She writes: ``At all times and under all circumstances, overcome evil with good. Know thyself, and God will supply the wisdom and the occasion for a victory over evil. Clad in the pano-ply of Love, human hatred cannot reach you. The cement of a higher humanity will unite all interests in the one divinity'' (p. 571).
This ``higher humanity'' recognizes man's spirituality and natural orientation toward good. It builds bridges instead of walls, even though the process may be a slow one. The building process may well involve individual self-examination that asks: ``Am I harboring hateful or fear-filled thoughts toward others? What can I do to change? How can I see the spiritual individuality of those I fear instead of thinking of them as a black or white or yellow or red monolith?''
Such questions, honestly answered, strengthen the foundation on which we are building our bridges. They give us more freedom to express genuine love and spontaneity toward our fellow humans. And they bring us--and the rest of humanity--out of the darkness of prejudice into the light of divine Love, which blesses all impartially.
Beloved, now are we the sons of God,
and it doth not yet appear
what we shall be:
but we know that, when he shall appear,
we shall be like him;
for we shall see him as he is.
I John 3:2