a time of reckoning

This essay by my dear friend James Davison Hunter is absolutely essential for our moment:

It is important to remember that times of crisis are always times of reckoning. Whether one admires [MLK] or agrees with his politics is not the question. In his day, public opinion was overwhelmingly against him, and even against today’s idealized and sanitized version of King, there are those who disparage the man and his achievements. The question, rather, is whether we have the requisite moral resources to reckon with our nation’s internal flaws and external challenges. King modeled a disposition, a voice, and a moral authority that could credibly compel such a reckoning in his own day, but in ways that made it possible for opponents to imagine a way forward together.

Although incomplete, his life and witness, his words and deeds, brought about constructive change in large measure because they were grounded in metaphysical and theological sources that transcended tribalized identities, prejudices, and shibboleths. King’s critique of America was radical, more radical than many today remember. But so too was his humanism. Dissent and solidarity were welded together — and could coexist precisely because they came from the same place. Both were rooted in an equally radical theological anthropology that demanded justice, refused ideological purity tests, and recognized the yearnings, fears, flaws, weaknesses, capacities, and aspirations that all human beings share — and, finally, obliged each of us to forgive our foes.

The particular moral resources that animated King and the clergy that surrounded him are certainly less available to us today. Their renewal is not impossible, but it is far from likely. But this only heightens the urgency of the question: What moral resources are available to us to come to terms with the crises we face?

That last question is the essential one. If you’re not meditating right now on your answer to it, you’re not serious about the challenge that faces us. James’s essay points us in the right direction. I am so grateful for his work and his witness. 

January 11, 2021

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