Apparition above a Massachusetts suburb September, 2019
Martin Luther King is famous for saying that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”. He was drawing on the words of Theodore Parker, a Unitarian minister opposed to slavery, who in a sermon published in 1853, wrote:
I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice. Things refuse to be mismanaged long. Jefferson trembled when he thought of slavery and remembered that God is just. Ere long all America will tremble. (Emphasis added).
Today Charles Blow writes in the New York Times that the “impending impeachment of Donald Trump will be a rebuke, but it will not be a restraint.” Elizabeth Drew writes that “we could be on the brink of having no check on the president, no matter how radically he defies the Constitution”.
Lovers of the environment are lovers of justice, as surely it is unjust to degrade the foundation on which all life depends. Such lovers may, at this moment, be aided in maintaining their energy to resist degradation and restore the hope of justice by remembering the words of the Preamble to the American Constitution:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
This is the declaration of purpose – the mission statement – the plan - of the founders of our system of democracy. Lovers of life and the justice required to sustain it must remember these words and resist all attempts to narrow their meaning. Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, envisioning a new birth of freedom, a new founding of the country after destruction, took an expansive view of its purposes. He also drew upon Parker, who in a speech in 1850 stated:
There is what I call the American idea. I so name it, because it seems to me to lie at the basis of all our truly original, distinctive, and American institutions. It is itself a complex idea, composed of three subordinate and more simple ideas, namely: The idea that all men have unalienable rights; that in respect thereof, all men are created equal; and that government is to be established and sustained for the purpose of giving every man an opportunity for the enjoyment and development of all these unalienable rights. This idea demands, as the proximate organization thereof, a democracy, that is, a government of all the people, by all the people, for all the people; of course, a government after the principles of eternal justice, the unchanging law of God; for shortness' sake, I will call it the idea of Freedom.