The 20th Martin Luther King Jnr Memorial Lecture

20/01/2007

The Archbishop delivered the 20th Martin Luther King Jnr Memorial Lecture. The full speech follows.
 

Theme: THE OVERCOMERS

It is a privilege to be asked to give this the 20th Martin Luther King Lecture. A year in which we are to commemorate the two hundredth Anniversary of the Act to Abolish the Slave Trade. I am grateful to David Udo and the Martin Luther King Twelve for their kind invitation and I am delighted to see so many friends in this room on the day which eleven years ago marked the first commemoration of Martin Luther King Day in the United States of America. 

I am also honoured to be standing in the place of so many good men and women who have delivered this lecture before me. In particular the first person to deliver this lecture deserves a special mention. Bishop Wilfred Wood remains a much loved figure in Croydon and beyond and with good reason. His untiring work in London as a priest and Bishop and as a national and international campaigner against racism, justifiably earned him second place in the list of 100 Greatest Black Britons. He preached at my priesting in 1979 

The Title for my lecture "The Overcomers" is a reference to that great anthem of the civil rights movement "We Shall Overcome". I remember where I was when I last sang that song. It was almost exactly four years ago in January 2003 in Aston in Birmingham at a vigil for Charlene Ellis and Letisha Shakespeare. No more than a few days had passed when a community in mourning came together in the Church across the road from where those two girls were brutally gunned down. The community came together to mourn and lament the violence which had been done not only to the girls, but to the community as a whole. 

On that night, young men joined with old women, mothers came with their children, Christians stood with Muslims as black, white and asian joined together to light candles and travel across the road and place them at the spot where the girls were slain. And as the candles were laid, the song began – "we shall overcome, we shall overcome, we shall overcome some day. Oh, deep in my heart I do believe, we shall overcome some day." 

And then the verses – "we'll walk hand in hand", "we shall all be free", "we are not afraid" 
"we are not alone" and "the whole world all around". With each verse the poignancy of these words, at the same time a powerful lament for the fallen and a cry of justice for the living, these words formed an unspoken promise and bond for all those present – enough is enough, the violence must stop, together we will work to bring it to an end. We shall overcome. 

A week later I joined with a group of teenagers, friends of Charlene and Letisha, for a concert they had organised at Villa Park. The concert was a memorial of hope to the girls from their friends – young people who were doubly at risk; of being pressured into joining gangs and of becoming the victims of those who would try to turn the streets of a city into the wild west. The young people's cry was for a better life, one free from the threat of violence, of guns, knives and gangs. They were longing for a city that was generous, clean and safe. 

That cry resonates far beyond Villa Park and has been heard in our cities and communities throughout the country. No place in our country is untouched by drugs. The associated violence and criminality of the drugs trade fills our prisons. 

But as Christians our call, alongside that of the young people, was one of hope. A hope for a better world, not only in the eschatological world to come, but in our here and now where the call for us is to overcome. A sure hope that does not disappoint. Which reminds me of Bill and Pete. Bill asked his friend, "Pete, have you ever realised any of your childhood hopes?" "Yes", replied Pete. "When my mother went to comb my hair, I often wished I didn't have any" Pete now finds himself follically challenged! Hope is the struggle of the soul, breaking loose from what is perishable, and attesting her eternity. For surely they who want to enjoy the glory of the sunrise must live through the night! 

If we are to truly be the overcomers and to make real the hopes of our young, then we must focus not only on the particular problems associated with inner city or outer urban communities, but must also consider those evils which form the backdrop against which these tragedies are being acted out. 

If we are to truly overcome then we must do battle with the four modern demons of our time: Idolatry, materialism, militarism, and race-ism. 

I. Idolatry

St. Augustine of Hippo wrote that "Our hearts are made for God, and they will not rest, until they rest in God." A later writer poetically said: "Our hearts have a God-shaped hole in them, that only God can fill." Sadly, we have disconnected ourselves from God. Idolatry – the worship of God falsely conceived – rules supreme. 

This has lead to a tragedy of the modern era - trying to fill the God-shaped hole in our hearts with something other than God. The human heart has a spiritual thirst. However, instead of having our spiritual thirst satisfied, we fill them with material things. We are distracted from what is troubling us, the same way as a crying baby is with sweets or people making funny faces at it. 

Trying to satisfy a spiritual thirst with material things is like trying to satisfy a physical thirst with salt water. The more we drink, the thirstier we get. In every human heart there's a thirst no drink can quench. There's a restlessness no success can satisfy. There's a void no material object can fill. Jesus Christ alone can satisfy this thirst, and that's the "good news" contained in the Gospel. Jesus said, "If anyone thirsts, let them come to me and drink. Rivers of living water will brim and spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in me" (John 7:37 – 38). I am the world's light. No-one who follows me stumbles around in the darkness. I provide plenty of light to live on...if you stick with this, living out what I tell you, you are my disciples for sure. Then you will experience for yourselves the trust, and the truth will free you." (John 8: 12, 36). 

Such a message stands at odds with those other messages which are aimed at our young people day in and day out. The pressure for status, wealth and power is such that even children's birthday parties are becoming competitive forums, with the resultant shame and embarrassment that poverty already brings, now being on display to children at a pre-school age. 

In a recent survey for National Kids Day, "Being a celebrity" has topped a list of what children under 10 believe to be the "very best thing in the world". The poll of just under 1,500 youngsters ranked "God" as their tenth favourite thing in the world, with celebrity, "good looks" and being rich at one, two and three respectively. 

And it is not only kids. Many of our young men and women are prostituting themselves at the altar of idolatry in a bid to become famous or a celebrity in the belief that through this they will find meaning and happiness. The sales of gossip and celebrity magazines have never been higher, our news is as celebrity driven as the programmes it reports upon, whilst the head of documentaries at the BBC was recently reported to have said that "it was not ideas he needed for new factual programmes, but celebrities to present them." 

In his sermon, "Transformed Nonconformist", Dr. King urged a counter cultural revolution against the flow of the materialism that led to an individualism that closed its eyes to injustice and failed to speak out on behalf of the marginalised. He quoted the poem by James Russell Lowell: 

"They are slaves who fear to speak 
For the fallen and the weak; 
They are slaves who will not choose 
Hatred, scoffing and abuse, 
Rather than in silence shrink 
From the truth they needs must think" 

The question is not whether you worship. But who or what do you worship. Who do you give your worth-ship to? 

We need to re-define where worship belongs in our society. Worship is offered every week at football grounds, concerts and all over the internet. Praise is heaped upon celebrities and the rich are feted for their bank balances. Such worship is misplaced. By all means let us recognise achievement, let us celebrate success but let our praise be directed at the author of life and the source of all being. For by doing so we remember those things that are truly important, recognising the common humanity of God's creation, the equal worth and equal value of each precious life and the need for equal treatment upon which the Civil Rights campaigners founded their task. 

For each one of us, the ultimate injunction must be for us to know God better, to know God more. And to love and serve our neighbour better. 

The injunction to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind and all your strength", overlaps the three Abrahamic religions. 

"I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. 

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 

You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God... 

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name" (Exodus 20: 2-7). 

Those three commands, assert the priority of Yahweh, who has no utilitarian value and who cannot be recruited or used for any social or human agenda. The God who commands Israel is an end to be honoured and obeyed, and not a means to be exploited. 

An imageless quality is Yahweh's distinctive characteristic. 

Therefore the prohibition of images is an assertion of the unfettered character of Yahweh, who will not be captured, contained, assigned, or managed by anyone or anything for any purpose. 

II. Materialism

The second of our modern demons is materialism. 

The figures for our national spend in the run up to Christmas are staggering. According to a report by Credit Action total UK spending is predicted to reach £51.6 billion during December 2006. Festive spending on plastic is set to reach £31.8 billion (which is an 11.6% increase on December 2005). In the 10 weeks to Christmas some 25 million people are expected to spend £7bn online - £4m every hour day and night. The average adult will spend £863 on Christmas. This includes £378 on presents, £163 on food and drink. 

Grant Thornton estimates that there will be 30,000 personal insolvencies in the first three months of 2007, of which 10,000 will be as a result of excessive Christmas Spending. 

Just as the Hebrew slaves from Egypt built the Golden Calf as the ultimate act of idolatry in the desert, so millions of British people are prostrating themselves before an altar of materialism. It's a big task in a country where Descartes' famous dictum "Cogito Ergo Sum" (I think therefore I am) has been replaced with "Tesco ergo sum" ("I shop therefore I Am"). 

There were of course those who weren't too worried about getting into debt over the Christmas period. London's financial community has been awash with talk of bonuses, which kept touching stratospheric levels. London's bankers alone may have earned a record £8.8 billion in bonuses in 2006, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research. 

The scale of the payments is staggering. And such is the resultant celebration for the chosen few that the London Ambulance Service even set up a mobile treatment centre in the City to cope with the bankers celebrating their windfalls by drinking too much. 

Is it any wonder that the moral dimension of such payout has led one commentator to ask, 
"Whether we should be worried that there is a growing group of people who are rich enough to float free from the rest of society?" 

What vision are we offering to today's young people who will never be bankers and who will never be David Beckham ? We need to give our young people a vision that means they can take down the sign from their heads which reads "life for sale – highest bidder wins". 

As the actress Imogen Stubbs noted, "What will happen when tired of accruing facts, jargon, logos, trivia, soundbites and cool material trophies our children dare to stop and reflect and ask us: 'If life is only about getting from now until death as lucratively and divertingly as possible – what is the point ? Why didn't you prepare us for the questions of life ?" 

The monk and writer Thomas Merton put it another way – "If you want to know who I am, don't ask me where I live and what I do, but rather ask me what I am living for and ask me in very small particulars why I am doing so little about it." 

Listen to these commands of God. 

"Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 
You shall not murder. 
You shall not commit adultery. 
You shall not steal. 
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour. 

You shall not covet your neighbour's house; you shall not covet your neighbour's wife, or his male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour." 
These commands are seeking to make human community possible by setting limits to the acquisitive capacity of members of the community – the capacity to seize and confiscate by power or by cunning what is necessary to the life of the neighbour. The commands require that the legitimacy and entitlement of other members of the community sets a limit to the autonomous capacity of any member of the community to take what others must have in order to live. 

This set of limitations has in purview both the protection of persons and the protection of property – a defence of the weak against the rapacious capacity of the strong. 

The fourth command about the Sabbath deserves a particular mention. We find at the core of creation the invitation to rest. 
The juxtaposition of creation (Exodus 20: 8-11) and rest for slaves (Deuteronomy 5:12-15) clearly articulates Israel's characteristic way of linking cosmic and concrete realities. The conduct of Yahweh on the seventh day is in sharp contrast to the world of Pharaoh, in which there is no rest but only feverish productivity. 
The command on Sabbath also looks forward: to a human community, an Israelite community probably engaged in neighbour – respecting life that is not madly engaged in production and consumption, but one that knows a limit to such activity and so at the centre of its life and enactment of peaceableness that bespeaks the settle rule of Yahweh. 

Moreover, as Sabbath became increasingly a distinguishing mark of a Jew in the world, this commandment provides a way in which Jewishness can be visibly enacted, in order to exhibit the claim that Jewishness is indeed an alternative way of being in the world; alternative to the exploitative ways of the world that begin in self-serving idolatry and end in destructive covetousness. 

It is a personal deep regret that in this country, where 72% of the population in the last census declared themselves to be Christian, that Sunday is no longer a day of rest. As I have said above, as a society we are no longer who we are because "God made us and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in him". But rather we now say, we shop because we are: Tesco ergo sum. And for many Africans who used to say, "I am because I participate, I belong – because we are", have also been caught up in this rat race. 

The Ten Commandments are a crucial line of defence against the destructive nihilism in the world. Nihilism, the conviction that there are no reliable values, may, of course, be expressed in high-powered rhetoric. 

The time appearance of nihilism, however, is not in some philosophical argument, but in the brickyard of Pharaoh, the slave trade, apartheid South Africa, Idi Amin's Uganda, Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe, Sudan's Darfur, where human life is completely exploitable, a deep, deathly disorder that is located not far from the ovens of Auschwitz. 

The God who commands knows very well what the exploitative commands of Pharaoh will yield, and knows as well an alternative set of commands (promises) that authorize another way in the world. And to these alternative commands, Israel assents (Exodus 24:3,7). This is true religion and virtue. It's No to idolatry. And Yes to social justice and purity of living. 

This true religion and virtue has a crucial role in healing our fractured world. 

Speaking as a Christian, the news about God is in a person and not in any language. It is given in the Person Jesus. Christianity, clearly understood, is not a religion but a life. Because religion can easily be put into compartments. 

III. Race-ism and Victimhood

If we are to be overcomers we must also tackle head on the demon of race-ism in our society. The events of the past week on our television screens have reminded us only too well of Dr. King's famous dictum that: "ignorance is the root of all prejudice. Sadly ignorance is not in short supply". 

Many of our young people find themselves caught in a pincer movement between the conspicuous consumerism which demands the latest (and most expensive) fashion, car or phone on the one hand and the barriers of racism on the other, with black children three more times likely to be excluded from school and where those who make up 8% of the adult population account for 20% of the prison population. 

Racism is real. As the week's events on reality television demonstrate, there is an ugly underbelly in society only to ready to point the finger at the foreigner, or those who might not fit in. But much more worrying than the soap opera silliness of big brother, were the comments of the judge this week who, rather than chiding a defendant for racially abusive comments towards a police doctor, advised the defendant on how to insult people in such a way that he didn't end up in court. 

Last night in Yorkshire the BBC broadcast a documentary Inside where two identically dressed groups of young professionals were sent to queue up outside two clubs in Leeds. Despite their identical dress code and backgrounds, there were treated differently. The black party were turned away from both the Rehab and nearby Townhouse clubs, whilst in contrast the white group were allowed into the same venues without any problems. 

The shirts were the same, the shoes were the same and the trousers were the same. 

The racism faced by the young black men was also the same, the same faced by their parents and grandparents over the past decades. 

Racism remains with us, and for those who would dismiss it as all in the mind, we can only give thanks that they have been spared the indignity and humiliation that accompanies each act of racial discrimination on grounds of colour, culture or ethnic origin. The eradication of race-ism is a serious task for all of us. It isn't some optional liberal gesture towards minorities. Race-ism, like MRSA to a human body, is the worst enemy because it attacks directly community organs and all its component parts. It's our duty and responsibility to tackle race-ism head on – publicly and privately – from whatever quarter it rears its vicious head. 

But we must also hold fast from running too far down a path that leads away from justice and righteousness to the pernicious state of victimhood. 

Victims of crime are entitled to justice, and the character of a just and righteous God should be always in our minds, but the allure of victimhood which seeks to give up or pass the buck for my own failings because I have been done a wrong should have no place within our moral compass. 

Victimhood is pernicious because it provides excuses for the wronged to become wrong doers. The young man stopped and searched because of the colour of his skin decides the law is corrupt and loses all respect for it and embarks upon a criminal career. The nation that is brutalised by a dictator which seeks to humiliate him and through brutal execution gives succour to the dictator's methods. The extremists who see the oppression of Palestinians and use this as a basis for planting bombs on tube trains. 

Victimhood is pernicious because its cause lies in an act of wrongdoing where justice seems unreachable. The word of the young man against the officer, the cry of society against its dictator, the plight of a dispossessed people ignored for decades. Without a recourse to justice, victimhood becomes a plausible response. 

Our moral society has become infected with that strain of BSE – blame someone else – which looks for a culprit for our woes, not for rightful questions of accountability or matters of justice but rather as a potential excuse for our own failures or irresponsibility. 

There is a temptation open to any who have suffered offence or been wronged to turn their powerlessness into bitterness. To rage not for justice, but for retribution. To be interested not in apology but in compensation. To seek not their own rehabilitation but the humiliation of the offender. 

Martin Luther King was clear in his writings that he was opposed to such an approach and saw in it not the solution for people of colour but only an ongoing spiral of discrimination: 
"Our aim" said Dr. King "must never be to humiliate our opponent but to win his friendship and understanding." 

The temptation presented by victimhood is that which takes the rage borne of injustice and funnels it into bitterness, hatred and violence, rather than transforming it into a unquenchable thirst for righteousness and justice to be done. 

Can you imagine what would have become of the civil rights leaders if they had traded their fight for equality for a mentality of victimhood ? The Bus boycott would have been bus destruction, the march on Washington would have been the Washington riot, the rage against injustice would have found form in destruction. The civil rights movement would have failed and been labelled by those in power historians not as heroes of a first cause but as terrorists. 

Because it is not being the victim of a wrong which defines our character but how we decide to respond to the wrongdoing. Do we travel down the easy path of hatred or can we find both within ourselves and within our communities the strength to challenge injustice through non-violence ? We must be both the solution and the answer to the demon of race-ism. Yes, we are the exorcists who must cast it out by "doing to them that which we want them to do to us". We must be the change we want to see in our country. 

IV. Militarism

46 years ago, almost to the day, President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his Farewell Address to the Nation on January 17, 1961 warned that 

"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist." 

The discredited political theory of machtpolitik – might is right – is again on the march through the unrestrained use of militarism in international relations. The war in Iraq, where the daily rising toll of civilian and military deaths acts as an ever growing stain on our collective conscience, demonstrates the folly of thinking that we can bomb our way out of trouble. 

Just as in Baghdad, so in Beirut, if we are to win the so called war on terror, we need to think beyond militarism in the battle for hearts and minds. We have to out-think suicide bombers by creating a large enough circle of love which includes them. 

I am not sure when the battle for hearts and minds in Iraq began, nor am I sure if it has ever stopped, but it is clear that this is one battle which is being lost both at home and abroad. 

Martin Luther King's opposition to the Vietnam war made him one of the most derided public figures in America. But King saw that whatever the threat of Communism to America, the war in Vietnam was not part of the solution. 

We are all aware of the threat posed by the extremists and salafi jihadists to us at home and to our armed forces overseas. But just as with Vietnam, Iraq has failed to be part of the solution. In the so called War on Terror, the militarist solutions of Iraq will not win the war. 

Rather we must learn how to out imagine those who are on the prowl for the young hearts and minds which are susceptible to the narrow world view of the terrorists and extremists. Whilst salafi Jihadism promises identity, purpose and belonging, we must offer more to our young than fifteen minutes of fame or a six figure salary. Being a celebrity or being rich will not make you happy. Just ask Jade Goody. 

V. The Christian Response

In contrast to the militarism of our age stands the non-violent approach adopted by the civil rights movement. 

Dr. King's views on non-violence were heavily influenced by Mahatma Gandhi whose own philosophy had developed during an earlier civil rights movement in South Africa. It is ironic to note now that as with Rosa Parks, so with Gandhi, the role of discrimination on public transport led to campaigns that would change a nation's history. 

For Gandhi, working in South Africa as a barrister at the start of the twentieth century, two key moments came when he was thrown off a train at Pietermaritzburg, after refusing to move from the first class to a third class coach while holding a valid first class ticket. Travelling further on by stagecoach, he was beaten by a driver for refusing to travel on the foot board to make room for a European passenger. 

But we have to go further back than the 1890s, back to the writings of John the beloved disciple, to see where non-violence is born and where we must look for the Christian response to overcoming the hurdles we face. 

The Christian response is grounded and formed in the words of Jesus Christ and formed the basis for Martin Luther King's collection of Sermons entitled Strength to Love. 

In John's Gospel during his farewell discourses with the disciples Jesus in unambiguous in his message to his disciples: "A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:34 NIV). This command is set in its proper context for this lecture in John's first epistle where he writes "This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome , for everyone born of God overcomes the world." (1 John 5: 3-4) 

But let no-one mistake these words for saccharine sentimentality. This is not the love of a thousand Mills & Boon romances, rather this is the love that turns the other cheek, the love that stands in the face of suffering and refuses to be cowed, this is a love so strong that it bursts forth from the grave leaving behind it an empty tomb. 

This is the love which informed Martin Luther King's non violence and lies behind our certainty when we sing "we shall overcome". Note that the words are not "we might overcome" nor "we hope to overcome", nor even "we will struggle to overcome", but we shall overcome. 

This is the love which to quote Dr. King once more – requires both "a tough mind and a tender heart", with both being imperatives for a Christian response. 

Through having a tough mind we will not be misled into victimhood or retribution. Nor will we fall prey to the softmindedness that goes with following the whim of the newest passing social fad which offers a solution be it borne from the fervently politically correct, who make inoffensiveness their idol, or the rabidly anti-politically correct, whose right to offend anyone, at anytime in any place in the degraded name of free speech is non-negotiable. 

Toughmindedness also enables us to face down those who would seduce with easy options which inevitably lead to scapegoating. We see this is in the actions of the British National Party and their recruitment drive amongst the middle classes. Blaming "the other" for the ills of society, be it people of colour, asylum seekers, muslims, jews, Christians, these seductive arguments find favour with the softminded who know there is something wrong and suspect someone else is to blame. Like victimhood, so with scapegoating, it is toughmindedness that will enable us to resist both. 

The second half of Dr. Kings solution is that of a "tender heart". A tender heart requires practise and discipline. It requires us to recognise the good in the most seemingly evil of people. It forces us to recognise the divine image in our enemy. It reminds us of Jesus' commandment to love our enemies, to love those who would do us wrong. 

And what happens when we do this? 

Last year, readers of the New Statesman magazine chose Camila Batmanghelidjh, the founder of Kids Company, as their Person of the year. A psychotherapist from Iran, who works among children in Peckham, south London, she is showing us that a whole range of apparently intractable problems relating to children and young adults, including drug abuse, antisocial behaviour, gang culture and even gun crime, may not be beyond solution after all. 

What is it that this woman does ? How does she achieve this seeming miracle? 

By giving them time, care, love and a substitute family structure. These children who have been written off as the excluded, the expelled and the criminal are transformed through the tender heartedness they discover. 

Batmanghelidjh writes and speaks in harrowing terms of the "clients" at the Peckham drop-in centre known as Arches II. "Almost nine in ten of them do not have a father figure living at home. From a young age they have been exposed to relentless neglect and violence. They have witnessed all manner of horrors: skulls cracking, blood from syringes shot over walls, the mindless destruction of furniture, crazed sexual behaviours and frequent criminal activity." 

These lives are turned around through a combination of tough mindedness and tender heartedness. These young people are given an opportunity to overcome their backgrounds through being valued and loved. 

This is how we must overcome as a society. Through grace and through love. Not through pitched battles but by reminding ourselves, and one another, of our infinite value before God which should be replicated by all. Yes there will continue to be disagreements, yes there will continue to be injustice, but how we manage those disagreements and how we defeat that injustice in a way that does not humiliate our opponent but ensures we walk together. 

Hence in our own modern day battles with the inheritors of the racist mantle, borrowed from the American South, our approach must not fall in to the trap of slamming the door in the face of our enemies. If ignorance is indeed the root of prejudice then education is its all important corollary. We do not educate our opponents by refusing to sit down with them. This is why I believe another of my predecessors in delivering this lecture was wrong in his recent call for Churches to ban members of the BNP from taking communion. 

The belief that we should not be in communion with those against whose views we are passionately opposed benefits neither side. The walls of ignorance and enmity are built higher still in the refusal to even attempt to win over our opponent but rather to prefer to walk our own way convinced of our own righteousness. 

Of course the BNP is wrong in its message of ethnic superiority and hatred towards all Muslims, Jews and the rest of us whom it would deport given the first opportunity, but Jesus Christ died for them as well. The communion table must always be open to those who are unworthy of it, and I count myself most unworthy of all to approach the altar of God. They must be allowed to come because it is only in the full knowledge and truth of Christ's love that they will finally be able to embrace me and call me a brother. And that must be our ultimate aim. 

As Dr. King said of those men whose "lips were dripping with the vituperation of racism" - 
"Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate but to win his friendship and understanding. We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience." 

VI Conclusion

In 1993, ten months after his inauguration, President Bill Clinton, preached a sermon from the pulpit of the Church of God in Christ in Memphis, where Martin Luther King had preached his final sermon before being assassinated. President Clinton ended his speech with these words: "We will honour the life and work of Martin Luther King, We will honour the meaning of our Church. We will, somehow by God's grace, we will turn our country around. We will give these children a future. We will take away their guns and give them books. We will take away their despair and bring them hope. We will rebuild the families and the communities. We will do it together by the grace of God". 

I echo that sentiment here today and would finish by asking you to join with me in a moment to sing that same song which has inspired generations of men and women to dedicate themselves in making their aspirations of hope a reality. 

So my message to you today is simple: We shall overcome. 

The false gods of idolatry shall not debase us – we shall overcome. 
The allure of materialism will not corrupt us – we shall overcome. 
The hard steel of militarism shall not defeat us – we shall overcome. 
The demons of racism shall not defeat us – we shall overcome. 
The mentality of victimhood will not enslave us - we shall overcome. 
The threat of would be suicide bombers will not intimidate us – we shall overcome 
The violence of the gangs, guns and knives shall not defeat us – we shall overcome. 

We shall overcome because we follow in a trail which has been blazed for us already. It is a hard road that passes through Golgatha and Calvary but which passes by an empty tomb on the road to Emmaus, on the path to victory.