The Spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. Is the Spirit of America
Archbishop George Augustus Stallings Jr.
Imani Temple African-American Catholic Congregation
28 January 2002
Guest speaker at the Washington DC Family Church
Transcribed and contributed by Angelika Selle
It was an evening to remember! On January 28 at the Washington Family
Church, the American Clergy Leadership Conference (ACLC) sponsored a
prayer dinner in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Some 200 clergy and guests from the greater Washington, DC, and
Baltimore area came together to pay tribute to the "saint" of America, as
Father Moon calls him. One could feel the spirit truly building with each
speaker and piece of music. On the program were Rev. C. Philip Johnson of
the New Prospect Family Worship Center, who was the emcee; Rev. Cleveland
D. Sparrow of the Sparrow World Baptist Church; Rev. In Hoi Lee, ACLC
co-chairman of Washington, DC; Rev. Adrien Bayo of LJM Inspirational
Gospel Ministry; Rev. Carlton Pressley, director of religious affairs at
the DC mayor's office; Rev. Kevin McCarthy, a pastor of the Washington
Family Church; Rev. Emanuel A. Lipscomb Jr. of the Martin Luther King
Jr. Family Life Institute; and Rev. Michael Jenkins, co-chairman of
the national ACLC. Powerful music was provided under the direction of
Rev. Levy M. Daugherty and his singers, Davetta Morgan, Adruma Victoria,
and Otmar Weinmann. Rev. John Highsmith of the Jesus Saves Church for All
People performed a wonderful version of "Go Down Moses." Among several
highlights of the evening was a video excerpt of Dr. King's speech at
the 1963 March on Washington.
Very appropriately after that, Dr. Walter Fauntroy of the Southern
Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), who had walked and worked
with Dr. King, took the podium and reminisced about those days. Then
Rev. Dr. Chang Shik Yang, North American Continental Director of the
Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, presented Dr. Fauntroy
with a gold watch in recognition of his historic work and leadership.
The core message of the evening, which follows, was delivered
by Archbishop George Augustus Stallings Jr. of the Imani Temple
African-American Catholic Congregation on Capitol Hill, focusing on
the theme: "The Spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. Is the Spirit of
America." In a unique and expressive way, the Archbishop tuned in to
Dr. King's spirit and conveyed the civil rights leader's heart and dream
to the audience. It was as if Dr. King himself were speaking through
him. There was electricity in the air, a sense of healing and anointing,
as well as a new empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, it was not just
an evening to remember, but to act upon!
Good evening, my sisters and my brothers. I call you my sisters and
brothers not because it is convenient or because I am just a minister. I
don't call you my brothers and my sisters because it is the right thing
to say or the nice thing to say.
I call you brothers and sisters affectionately, because in the depth
of my being I not only believe that we are brothers and sisters one to
another, but that somehow we all share the same blood. We are all from
the same root, from the same source. I call you my brothers and sisters
because that is not only how I see you, but that is how I desire for you
to see me! That your joys are my joys and my sorrows are your sorrows,
that we are inextricably connected with one another.
That is what was the heart of Martin Luther King Jr. That was the core
message of all that he sought to preach and teach. That was the driving
force within him: to bring all of us to the conscious realization and to
the spiritual awareness that we are all inextricably connected and linked
to one another. But somehow, until we come to realize that, we will never
rise to the level where our God desires us to be. Somehow, we've got to
go beyond the color of our skin and dwell in that place where the content
of our character will be able to distinguish us from the rest of us.
I am often perplexed how we talk that talk but find it so hard to
walk that walk. We who are ordained ministers, who know how to pose
every word of our speech and exegete every passage of the Bible, have
had a difficulty in convincing people in the pews and some people in the
pulpit what it means to be one family under God. But that is what we are;
we are just one gigantic family, and all the members of that family and
of that body must be treated equally.
But somehow in our churches, we can love each other on Sunday
morning and hate each other on Monday morning. I have never been able
to quite figure it out why we say that we all serve the same one true
God but cannot find God in each other. There is something wrong with
our theology, with our religion, there is something wrong in which we
articulate our vernacular expression of God. I don't know where we have
gone wrong, but somehow we have to start going right!
I am moved by the theme tonight, "The Spirit of Martin Luther King
Jr. Is the Spirit of America." Having watched that historic march in
Washington, anyone can tell you that Martin saw it very clearly when
he said: "I have a dream," because it is a dream that is deeply rooted,
not just simply rooted, but deeply rooted in the American dream.
He says I am not bringing you a new theology, a new history, I am
not trying to take you somewhere where you never been, but I am trying
to get you to enflesh the very ideals upon which this nation was built!
I am a theologian, and I love to search out the etymology of words. I
guess you can call me an etymologist. Because when I look at the title,
"The Spirit ...," there is only one understanding for spirit. I think
so many times we use words lightly. We do not understand the power
that words convey. But when we look at the word "spirit," I think of
"ruah," which is Hebrew for "breath" or spirit. I think of "numah"
which is Greek for spirit. I think of the Breath of God, I think of
the highest ideals, I think of that which is limitless, boundless,
that which cannot be confined, contained, that which cannot be boxed in,
compressed, which cannot be caved in, which cannot be dissected by human
reasoning. Ultimately, when I think of spirit I think of God and the
things of God and the love of the things of God.
We also know that the spirit, even though there are evil spirits
in the world, originates from God. God is Will, God is unique, God is
unchanging, God is power, God is absolute and eternal. So when you talk
about spirit you are talking about God.
This nation was built on the foundation of God. I don't care what
we see now, but it was built on the foundation with God as its prime
mover. One nation under GOD! There is no nation unless it is under God,
there is not a nation unless God reigns supreme. Therefore, when we
talk about the spirit of America, we are talking about taking America
back to the throne of grace, taking America back to the seat of mercy
and purifying her. America needs to be purified; America needs to go
back to God, to be cleansed and to be made whole. That is the spirit of
America. This is America's high ideal. In the Declaration of Independence,
we read: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men --
and women, I might add -- are created equal; and that they are endowed
by the creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are life,
liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
I don't remember seeing a footnote that defined who "all men" are. Even
though we know when the founders sought to carry it out, not all men were
seen as equal. Some were treated as three-fifths of a man or three-fifths
of a woman. But the spirit of America is not seen in what she has done
but in what she is called to be. We have yet to see the true spirit of
America manifested, because she has yet to become what God has called her
to be. But she has it in her creeds, she has it in her spirit. She has it
in the Statue of Liberty at Ellis Island, where it is written: "Give me
your tired, your poor,/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,/
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore./ Send these, the homeless,
tempest‑tossed to me,/ I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Oh, America has the ideals, and she has the direction and the spirit,
but she is still hung up on her laws. As great and mighty as she is,
America still has to find her true self. She is yet to achieve and
epitomize the fullness that is contained in the spirit of America.
I tell you we can go all the way back to the Garden of Eden, to Adam
and Eve, and see the devastating effects of the Fall, which seeks to
prevent us from allowing the spirit to come forth. Therefore, we need
reformers to give birth to the spirit, we need redeemers in order to
ransom America, we need restorers, and we need repairers of the breach
of that lost realm who will bring America back to her true identity and
allow her to live it.
When I think of Martin Luther King Jr., I think of Martin Luther,
the great 16th century reformer and what he had to go through in his
attempts to reform the Roman Catholic Church. He knew persecution. When
everybody had written him off and thought he was a heretic, and thought,
"How dare he challenge the age-old Institution, in which we they were
accustomed to do things a certain way; how dare he stand up and fight a
mighty Church!" When everyone thought he would be defeated, that God had
deserted him, and when everyone figured that he and his followers would
never manage to survive, he came up with the song: "A Mighty Fortress Is
Our God." Then, some 400 years later, Martin Luther King Jr., another
reformer, brought another song with three stanzas, the first of which
said, "I have a dream"; the second saying, "With this faith"; and the
third "Let Freedom Ring." Martin Luther King said that there is hope for
America as long as there are reformers, redeemers, and restorers and as
long as there are men and women to march through hell for a heavenly
cause. That means that all of us black, white, red, brown, and yellow
people are the beneficiaries of the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr.
He is in every one of us.
We thank Martin Luther King Jr., we ought to praise the man, because
all of us are here together as brothers and sisters right now, instead
of fighting each other, hating each other, talking about each other,
or looking at each other with jaundiced eyes. We owe it to him!
And yet, as Rev. Kevin McCarthy says, the "check" is still on
the table. America has yet to cash that same check. We want to call
America to task. We are not going to just sit back and live off the
accomplishments of Dr. King, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and
Frederick Douglass. We've got to stand up and get into the spirit, not
just into the words, the talk, or just into the desire. We have to walk
in the Spirit by the Spirit, and we have to keep on walking until things
are right! Until we know in our heart of hearts that things are right,
we need to keep going. Yet until we can go beyond the surface value and
see God in each other, that dream still passes on toward fulfillment.
Each one of us must leave this room tonight living and walking in the
spirit of Martin, each of us tonight must be willing to pay the price
and pay the sacrifice. We need to stop being the kind of group that is
tearing each other apart. We need to tear each other away from those
who tell racial jokes about another race or demean another race. We've
got to step aside from those who don't realize that we are all brothers
and sisters. Time hasn't changed. We have got a new spirit, but not the
Spirit of God.
We say we love the God above, we say we praise God, we magnify God, we
want to be like God. But the place to find God is looking at each other,
not looking vertically. Looking horizontally, that's where we find God.
God is not in some ivory tower, living in the city with 12 gates nor
sitting on a throne. He is walking among men and women, he is in men and
women. He is living in you and in me. That's where we find God. Jesus
said that the Kingdom of God is within you!
You are looking for it here or there, at the Cross, in the tabernacle,
in the Bible, in the rosary, in the holy water, in the Stations of the
Cross. Yet He is in you! God is living in the true hearts of men. He
has been there all the time. He hasn't left us, we have left Him!
Martin's life will never be in vain! Other Martins will rise up. That's
what I call the triple-"M" company: Martin Luther, Martin Luther King
Jr., and Me! The three-"M" company. We need to rise up and reform this
earth. When we are talking about reform, we are talking about reshaping
it and putting it back to where our God has originally intended it to
be before the Fall. Jesus said in John 14:12: "If you have faith in me,
not only will you do the same works, but greater works, because I am
going to the Father."
We've got to do a greater work with this faith. With this faith in
God, we can change America. With this faith, we can walk out of this
room not just having been to another commemoration event of MLK Jr.,
another tribute. We have picked up the mantle, we've picked up the
gauntlet, and we are leaving this place as another MLK Jr. Me, myself,
and I am going to make a difference.
It is time for us to get off our behinds that we'd like to sit on. It
is time for the spirit of Martin to become incarnate in us and take
flesh. Just as the word became flesh, Martin must take flesh in each
one of us. Somehow, we have to have it deep within us and share among
us the heart of MLK Jr., so that we might be even willing to give our
lives for the sake of the brothers and sisters.
We leave this place tonight having come to the realization that we
have been privileged to witness and touch the life of a man who made
a difference. Let us take within us the Spirit of God. The spirit of
Martin was God in him! God living in him. And the spirit of America is
the foundation of God in people upon which God wants to build His dream.
When we take within us the Spirit of God, the spirit of Martin, we
shall behold a new Heaven and a new earth, for the former earth will
have passed away. I am waiting for that former earth, for our false
ways, to pass away. I am waiting for us to have a whole new spiritual
way of thinking so we can change America from the inside, not just do
a superficial job of window dressing. We have to change the heart of
America by changing the heart of each one of us. Let us start welcoming
and embracing each other as brothers and sisters! Long live the spirit
of Martin Luther King Jr.! May the spirit dwell in you and in me!
Thank you, Martin Luther King!