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Moral leaders give hope that fuels efforts
to bring about freedom, justice and peace

At the Martin Luther King, Jr., commemoration and rally in Spokane, the Rev. Leslie Braxton of New Beginnings Christian Fellowship in Tacoma, called for moral leadership in the 21st century. 

Leslie Braxton
Leslie Braxton, New Beginnings Christian Fellowship, Tacoma at MLK CommemorationService

“We are experiencing a shift in world power from the West to the East and from the North to the South,” he said.  “The economies and populations of Western and Northern nations are stagnant and are declining.  Economies are booming for those in the Third World.  The two most populous nations are China and India.” 

Braxton reported that at the start of the 20th century, 80 percent of Christians were white and in the North and West.  At the start of the 21st century, 80 percent of Christians are black or brown and in the South and East.

He described the early 20th century as the birth of modernity, with inventions of airplanes and cars, and with antibiotics promising control of diseases.

While some portray science and religion as enemies, King said both have a role:  Science investigates “how.”  Religion interprets and talks about “who and why,” Braxton said.

“In modernity, we gained mastery over our lives and environment.  If it’s cold outside, we can be warm inside,” he said.

Early in the 20th century, he pointed out, slavery had ended, but was revisited in colonialism. Europeans moved inland from outposts on the coast of Africa because they found diamonds, palm oil and other resources.

Colonial powers carved Africa into colonies, exploiting the land and labor of indigenous people to enrich and hyper-develop the mother country, leaving indigenous people, cultures and economies devastated, Braxton said.

“In the 20th century, the color line was challenged.  In the 21st century, economic lines are drawn in a battle between haves and have-nots, but some falsely use battles of race and religion to gain power and access to resources,” he said.  “Western powers, seeking resources, impose their presence in the Arab and Asian world where they are not wanted. 

“With the military and economic shift from the West and North, countries in the East and South are taking control over their own resources and becoming new military and economic powers.

Goldstein, Glass, Cupich at MLK Commemoration
Rabbi Michael Goldstein, Howard Glass and
Bishop Blase Cupich at the commemoration service
at Holy Temple Church of God in Christ

We need moral leaders to help us navigate through troubled waters,” Braxton said.  “Dr. King’s vision saves us from ourselves.  He helps us define the struggle and use ethical tactics, so we do not fight the wrong fights.  Racial, religious and gender wars are not about race, religion or gender.  Dr. King reminded us that we are one common humanity.

“The speech of immoral leaders is full of ‘you people’ and ‘taking our nation back,’” he said.  “It vilifies people to desensitize us to what those in power do to us.

Dr. King reminded us that we are more similar than dissimilar.  He reminded us that in a world of conflict, we must always choose nonviolence over violence.  With the catastrophic power of weapons today, the choice is between nonviolence or non-existence.”

In the recent tragedy in Tuscon, he sees the wrong debate between the political right and left.  He sees blame used to avoid common-sense gun laws to prevent someone with a mental illness from getting a gun and to prevent access to assault weapons.

He said there has been a “trail of tears” from gunfire since the automatic weapons ban, which passed in 1994, expired in 2004.

“Attempts to pass a new assault weapons ban have been stopped, because the National Rifle Association has bought Republicans and Democrats in Congress.  Concerned about being re-elected, they lack moral courage, even after Columbine, Virginia Tech and now Tuscon,” he said. 

Braxton thinks Americans love guns more than they love God: “American culture is steeped with violence, so the right to a gun seems to be a sacred right.”

He explained that the Second Amendment was put in the Bill of Rights when colonial settlers needed guns to prevent a reconquest by the British Empire, to protect themselves from attacks from Native Americans whose land they stole, and to protect them against insurrection of enslaved black people.

“We need moral leaders, willing to risk not being re-elected, so we can put in place common-sense gun laws,” he asserted.

Then he pointed out that “our goal in relationships needs to be reconciliation, not conquest.  Dr. King said we are to reconcile with our brothers and sisters.  There is gridlock in Washington, D.C., because everyone is trying to defeat the other side.  Compromise suggests something about the other side is legitimate.”

Being reconciled does not mean going back to the old relationship, he said, but going in faith into a new relationship of brotherhood and sisterhood—with people of all races living together with all their needs met.

Leslie and Sheila Braxton
Leslie and Sheila Braxton

Praising Dr. King’s compelling message of hope—former slaves and slave owners, blacks and whites sitting and working together—Braxton said when people feel helpless, they feel hopeless and may act in self-destructive ways or may hurt others.

“Because there is still hatred, we must continue to teach our children. The world will not improve if we let it be,” he said. 

While civil rights songs were about hope, mega-millionaire singers today fill children’s heads with fatalist messages that:  “I’ll always be a victim,” “it ain’t my fault,” “I try so hard” or “trouble follows me.”  

My father, stepfather and brother went to prison.  Their choices did not have to be mine.  I was determined to make something out of my life,” he said. 

People become fearful and think everyone is angry—fearing immigrants will take their jobs; opposing a mosque that had been in New York City for 30 years, concerned about gays serving openly in the military.  

While there is now a Jew, a black, an Hispanic and two women on the Supreme Court, he said it’s not enough.

We need moral leaders to give us hope when we are anxious, so we can live in liberation, prosperity and justice,” Braxton said.  “This is the land of African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, Latin Americans and European Americans—one common humanity, so our means must be consistent with our ends.”

At the rally, he shared concern about the suicide and homicide rate among young people—a generation with more material things than previous generations, but with more chaos inside. 

“We can decide to hang in.  Dr. King came over the way of tears with people trod on by the system, singing not to let anyone turn them around,” he said.

Is the next generation ready to deal with war and peace, the common good and everyone having enough to eat? Dr. King said the young need to be serious about serious things while they are young.  He was 26 when he began to re-landscape the nation.

“Change comes from the bottom up;  gridlock and recalcitrance from the top down.  Change comes from those who live as they ought, not as it is or was,” he said, pointing out that the young sat at lunch counters, rode busses, crossed bridges, gathered on campuses to end the war in Vietnam and elected John F. Kennedy, who started the Peace Corps and put men on the moon.

“I encourage the young to grab the message of hope and believe they can make a difference.  To do that, they need education so they have the tools,” Braxton said.

“We need to change minds.  We need young people to force the nation to move forward and not fall back into bigotry,” he said.    “Dr. King kept believing, praying, marching and working so the world would be better.”

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