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The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
— THEODORE PARKER
“Evil may so shape events that Caesar will occupy a palace and Christ a cross,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “but that same Christ will rise up and split history into A.D. and B.C., so that even the life of Caesar must be dated by his name. Yes, ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’”
The ‘arc of the moral universe’ quote is actually from Theodore Parker, a nearly forgotten radical minister, Transcendentalist, reformer and abolitionist, whose sermons and writings inspired Abraham Lincoln (Parker used the phrase, “A democracy — of all the people, by all the people, for all the people;” in a speech in 1850), as well as Dr. King.
Theodore Parker started out as a Universalist minister, but became too radical even for them, and moved to the Congregationalists. He was noted as a stirring public speaker in an age of orators, and a remarkable theologian in a golden age of intellectual prowess. It is an irony that he is mostly remembered today by Unitarian-Universalists, as a founder of U.U. anti-dogmatism.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” is often quoted, but what does it actually mean? I think for Theodore Parker and the many other abolitionists who struggled to stamp out slavery, it meant that those pitted against injustice would ultimately prevail, though it might take generations. Dr. King seems to point toward Jesus Christ bending the arc toward justice.
In our troubled times, the arc looks longer than ever. Justice drops over the horizon, fading from our sight. As Claudius laments in Shakespeare’s Hamlet,
When sorrows come, they come not single spies
But in battalions.
We are under siege, the battle fronts are everywhere. It is overwhelming and exhausting. It’s all too easy to sink into despair, and drown.
But on this day, June 12, some people have marked two very different arcs of history which offer me hope that Justice is hidden beyond our horizon only temporarily, like the sun which appears and disappears from our view as the earth turns. Justice is constant, but our view of it flickers, obscured and revealed by the onward rush of events.
The first story of this day begins in 1950. In the spring, 13-year-old “Tubby” Johnston signs up to tryout for the King’s Diary Team of the Knights of Columbus League in New York. “Tubby” makes the team, but then confesses to the coach that “he” is really Katherine Johnston, who had talked her mother into cutting off her braids, and then dressed like a boy for the tryouts. The coach said, “You know, we don’t have rules for girls and you’re really good so we’d like to have you on the team.” She played that entire season. But then the Little League organization instituted the “Tubby Rule,” banning girls from the league.
The “Tubby Rule” stays on the books until 1974, when the National Organization for Women (NOW) backs Maria Pepe in a discrimination lawsuit in which the New Jersey Superior Court decides that Little League must allow girls to tryout.
Of course, this arc is still bending. There are now many girls playing in Little League, and some are among its outstanding players; there are more opportunities for women athletes to earn a living as professionals in other sports. However, the girls of Little League haven’t “made it to the show” of professional baseball — yet.
‘Little League Girls Baseball Day’ is a reminder that true talent is never in oversupply — how much longer will the National League ignore half of the potential stars of our National Pastime? How much longer will women struggle to take our rightful place as fully equal citizens and leaders?
The second story is a still-raw wound: The first anniversary of the domestic terrorist-hate crime attack on Pulse, the gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, which was hosting a “Latin Night.” The gunman identified himself as an “Islamic Soldier,” a “Mujahid” seeking vengeance for an airstrike in Iraq that had killed Abu Wahib, an ISIL commander, six weeks before. That he targeted a nightclub full of gay, mostly Latino people for mass murder seems like a bizarre disconnect from his self-appointed “mission.” These were not military personnel, or national political figures, or symbols of Western corporate greed.
But 49 people died and 58 others were wounded, the deadliest terror attack in the U.S. since the September 11th attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.
Today in Orlando, the One Orlando Alliance, a coalition of the LGBTQ+ community’s ‘Acts of Love and Kindness’ movement, with the governments of the City of Orlando and Orange County of Florida, and many other organizations and local businesses, are launching Orlando United Day, to honor the memory of the 49 who lost their lives, and to continue supporting survivors, and the families and friends of those who died in the Pulse nightclub tragedy. Their theme for Orlando United Day 2017 is simply stated: Act. Love. Give.
Act. Love. Give. That should apply to our national Resistance movement too. It will take many hands, hearts and heads to bend the arc back toward Justice in America.
Dr. Joseph Warren, who died in the Bunker Hill Battle at age 34, holding a redoubt even after his ammunition ran out, to win a few more minutes for other militiamen to escape and continue the fight.
Today also marks a personal milestone for me.
This is my 600th post at Flowers for Socrates.