In 1958 Martin Luther King Jr. privately recruited Lawrence Edward Carter as a 10th grader to come to Morehouse College. Twenty-one years later, Lawrence Carter became the first Dean of the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel in 1979. Today he is a tenured Professor of Religion and College Archivist and Curator at Morehouse College. In this episode, Lawrence Edward Carter discusses if we are serious about fulfilling Martin Luther King Jr. ’s dream then we have to take a global approach.
Listen to the Interview with Dr. Lawrence Edward Carter
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Dr. Ezell: Dr. Carter became the first Dean of the MLK International Chapel in 1979. Today he is a tenure professor of religion, and also the college archivist and curator at Morehouse College. Please enjoy.
Dr. Ezell: Dr. Carter, thank you so much for joining us today and being a part of this 2017 digital conference.
Dr. Carter: Thank you for having me.
Dr. Ezell: Before we start, if you could just take a few minutes, and just tell us a little about yourself, and also your work here at Morehouse College here in Atlanta, Georgia.
Dr. Carter: I came to Morehouse as the first Dean of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Chapel in 1979, July 1st. And if you think a moment, you realize that that’s 11 years after the passing of Dr. King. And that is significant, because his last book to us set forth a kind of vision that I think has most influenced how I started here.
Dr. Carter: The trustees, with the president Hugh Gloster, had planned this chapel before Dr. King’s passing but when he was assassinated, they voted to name it in his honor. That was not the original plan. And they named it as probably the most prominent religious memorial to him on the planet, as they were thinking about the kind of programming that would be organized here and the impact that it would have.
Dr. Carter: But that summer when I arrived, I went to the president’s office and I said to Dr. Gloster, having had several conversations with him about his vision, and I said, “I think the Chapel has the wrong name.” It startled him and he said, “What should it be?” And I said, “Not memorial. I don’t want to preside over an edifice that’s like a museum for battles no longer being fought. I think if we’re serious about Dr. King’s dream, and fulfilling it, we’ve got to think globally.” And so, I proposed international. He liked it. He said, “I’m going to bring you before the trustees to make the argument, and they will have to vote.”
Dr. Carter: And so believe it or not, there was some concern of one of the trustees that the name was going to be too long. He thought that was far too common of Black institutions, religious houses with long names. And so I didn’t want to do it, but I said, “Well, okay, we can make it national.” Well, that didn’t make him happy. But when I got to Dr. Moss as I walked around the room shaking the hand of each trustee, Otis Moss Jr. said, “What are you about to do?” I told him. He said, “No, make it international.” And he said, “I will support you on this.” So, when it came time I made the proposal and my statement and sure enough there was debate, and Dr. Moss came through for me and he turned the tide.
Dr. Carter: I told him that I wanted to program around a global theme because of the last chapter in Dr. King’s last book where he talked about the “WorldHouse” and I thought this was kind of the equivalent to Gandhi’s “Global Village”, Ikeda’s “Global Commonwealth of Citizens”, Daisaku Ikeda of the Soka Gakkai International, and Mandela’s “International Solidarity of Peace-Loving Nations”. I was of the opinion that Martin King’s often quoted statement about the beloved community should be modified in light of that last chapter in that last book. And so we started talking here about the beloved world community and not just that, taking a hint from Vernon John’s critique of Martin King’s use of beloved community and we made it the ultimate beloved economic world community in order to address Martin King’s final concern about the poor people’s march and the garbage collectors in Memphis not being properly salaried.
Dr. Carter: And so, around this global emphasis we started and then I shifted from the international and the global to cosmic. I thought that we had to go in that direction, not just global but cosmic in light of global warming, all the environmental issues and the need to emphasize not weaponizing space and enlarging everybody’s address. I thought just identifying your address by the streets you lived on and your house number was far too local that when Martin King said, “In justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”, that was the most succinct definition of Martin King as an ethical cosmopolitan. And so, I think that today this emphasis is more important than ever with a Chief Executive in the White House who emphasizes “America First”. I think we cannot lose our concern to love the children in Bangladesh, the Gaza Strip, Peking, just as much as we love the children under our own roof.
Dr. Carter: And so, the moral cosmopolitan emphasis that we have here starts with my reading of King and I think it helps to focus everything toward guaranteed sanctioned legal human rights globally. And I think that is the only way we’re going to ever have a oneness and a respect. It’s all gonna have to be built on respect and not fear. The fear comes from the weapons. You see it’s the weapons that are the primary buttress to the sovereignty of states, that’s how they enforce their sovereignty. But our best hope is with the parliament of the people and that’s the United Nations. And so when Martin King joined Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist monk, in opposing the war in Vietnam, they held joint press conference and Martin King revealed something that the world basically ignored. In the course of them responding to the media, Dr King said that he basically agreed with Thich Nhat Hanh’s Buddhism. He was never challenged or questioned about what he meant but as King said that Jesus led him to Gandhi, that statement by King led me to Daisaku Ikeda.
Dr. Carter: And I think in a serious way, it inaugurated my whole emphasis here on interfaith engagement. And so, I have a book coming out that is tentatively titled “The Baptist Preacher’s Buddhist Teacher”.
Dr. Ezell: I like that.
Dr. Carter: Interfaith journey with Daisaku Ikeda and how it has made me a better Christian.
Dr. Ezell: That’s profound.
Dr. Carter: Yeah.
Dr. Ezell: That’s profound.
Dr. Carter: You know every now and again your language, maybe even your theology, your philosophy needs to be updated, needs to be retooled. And I have discovered by reading the mystics of different faith traditions, I find a lot of commonality. It’s like “One river, Many wells”, to quote Matthew Fox and a lot of common ground and I have found that with Gandhi, King, Ikeda and Mandela and Gulen, Fethullah Gulen. And you see there you have Hindu, Indian Hindu, African American Christian, an African Christian, one Baptist, one Methodist, and you have a Japanese Nichiren Buddhist, and you have a Turkish Muslim. And it is phenomenal how they seem to agree in their goals, coming from a different spiritual culture, a different spiritual tradition. And I’ve brought all of that here and at first it was a little bit of a shock in Baptist heaven.
Dr. Ezell: Of course. Cultural shock in a sense
Dr. Carter: And then some of the students raised the question, “Is Dean Carter still a Christian? Does he still know Jesus?”
Dr. Ezell: Right.
Dr. Carter: But I just persisted and tried to let them know me by my fruits.
Dr. Ezell: There are several topics that I wanna cover here in this conversation, you’ve mentioned several and I have to kind of pull it back and unpack a little bit. There’s the notion of ethical, with respect to ethical leadership, which is so needed today with our practitioners and leaders in foreign affairs. And also the work of Dr Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. Ezell: I wanna start with Dr King. April 3rd 1968, he mentioned in Memphis, Tennessee, “Only when it’s dark enough can you see the stars”, and I wanna ask the question, if we could start here, how dark is the world right now?
Dr. Carter: Well, I will begin to respond maybe by saying it seems strangely dark in a way that it doesn’t seem to have been in recent history because of the style and the nature of our national leadership. Never in my lifetime of being politically aware have we had a president who has given us so much evidence of appearing to demonize virtue. And to be oriented towards not speaking the truth with confidence and he has come along during a time of the digital media where the camera never blinks.
Dr. Ezell: Right.
Dr. Carter: And so there’s so much documentation and he seems to forge right on with what has properly become known as fake news and alternative facts. And so right off the bat, it appears we have an assault on the ethical and moral conduct coming from the White House that we’ve always looked upon as providing a certain kind of moral leadership and being a certain kind of model, even for the children. And so the mockery that he made when campaigning of people who were physically different, I don’t think there’s any parallel to that that we have experienced. So, this has put more of an ethical imperative on the American institutions that have traditionally been the stewards of moral leadership and championing principled or ethical behavior.
Dr. Carter: This is a time when we should not lower our voices but we have to speak up and not be intimidated by the politics of a party. So, before I go on, would you once again pick out from the question you’ve asked me, where you want me to go because there’re many things that are crowding to my mind to say.
Dr. Ezell: So, for example, we started in a place where we’re looking at the foundation of Dr Carter and your work here at Morehouse College and King’s International Chapel and we’re moving to a place where we just discussed the context, how dark the world is right now. And from this place, I see us moving into a space where we can talk about moral leadership, which will arch into the cosmopolitan way. So …
Dr. Carter: Okay. Now, when we talk about darkness, the idea that comes to me is that we seem to have reached a point of personified disrespect for the category of the person. Now I can go far back in history, we could go to Emmett Till but George Zimmerman is a good example and the whole Trayvon Martin saga. In the state of Florida there is a history with the government, with the courts, with elected officials of supporting a sanctioned terrorism against Blacks. Martin King said that of all of his career, he had not seen such hatred and violence against African Americans anywhere in the nation that could equal what he saw in St. Augustine, Florida. Coming close to it was what he witnessed in Cicero, Illinois, where he was stoned. But in Florida, George Zimmerman was not an accident and so we need to have some sympathy for him. He didn’t get to be like he was by accident.
Dr. Carter: So when I speak of the category of the person, Martin King was very much oriented in his personalistic idealism to the sacredness of all human personality. He believed that everybody had dignity, divinity, that there was some sky in them. And he believed that everybody was a center of autonomous value that was underived but greatly buttressed by his faith that we were all made in the lightness and image of God.
Dr. Carter: And so, when he said, “I break your laws”, in Alabama, to the segregationists because they are unjust, they support the uplift of white personality but not black personality. They were all made by segregationists, white segregationists, Blacks did not participate in the making of these laws. So, I break them because they are unjust in order to arouse the attention of the community. And they emphasized, “But you are the reverent Martin Luther King and you ought to know better”, and they tried to shame him. But he said, “I also intend to exercise the highest respect for law by my willingness to accept the penalty for breaking your laws. I’m willing to go to jail”. Something that the Klans men weren’t willing to do when they threw stones and hid their hands and covered themselves with sheets.
Dr. Carter: He was willing to express the highest respect for the dignity of his persecutors and people who disagreed with him because he believed that regardless of your behavior that everybody has humanity. And so, he was respecting the humanity in everybody, including the segregationists, and as a result of that respect, he had something to appeal to when he wanted to dialogue with them. They were not all lost and he never reduced their essence to their evil behavior. He felt they were bigger and more than the evil acts that they perpetrated upon society.
Dr. Ezell: If you could please define your understanding of the moral cosmopolitan way and how, when foreign affairs practitioners or international leaders if they follow this way might be able to promote peace? A functional peace in our society.
Dr. Carter: That’s a very good question and I’ve thought about this a lot with regard to the President of Turkey, Erdogan, and how he has tried to demonize Fethullah Gulen. And I have thought about this when I remember the second George Bush in the White House, and how the UN inspectors brought back the report that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And yet, George W. Bush ignored those inspectors from the UN, this report, and when questioned about it he said, “I don’t intend to turn the security of the United States over to the UN”. And Erdogan wanted to use General Flynn to persuade the American government to extradite Fethullah Gulen from Pennsylvania even though there was not a shred of evidence that Gulen was leading the demonstrations that we’ve seen to occur that Erdogan said was an attempt to overthrow his government. You know the two men used to be very close, used to be friends.
Dr. Carter: Now, let me, before I try to zero in on your question, say I am profoundly disturbed by what I saw Sarkozy, the President of France, do to the little 50 year old now probably 54 or 55 year old independent nation of the Ivory Coast, Cote d’Ivoire.
Dr. Ezell: Yes.
Dr. Carter: That used to be a French colony but this little independent nation, struggling to be a democracy was literally bulldozed because the French, under the leadership of its president, Sarkozy, didn’t like the outcome of the election and sent his military in and bulldozed the executive residents and brought the president and his family out in handcuffs. Now, unfortunately our government seemed to support this behavior but I couldn’t think of any other sovereign nation trying to be a democracy that any of the larger better established democracies would have so mistreated and imposed themselves on.
Dr. Carter: But you see, when you understand that France has 400 companies in Cote d’Ivoire, the Americans love to call the Ivory Coast, and that chocolate is one of the outstanding products that they produce that is so important to the French. When you discover the manipulation of economies to the disadvantage of the Cote d’Ivorians and wealth and greed and keeping capitalism alive, and you see that things are not fully democratic because you see Laurent Gbagbo, the president of the Ivory Coast, wanted to do business with other nations and there’s no good reason why he shouldn’t have had that opportunity and not just one nation.
Dr. Carter: And so, when I talk about respect, when we talk about the beloved community or the ultimate beloved economic world community …
Dr. Ezell: Right.
Dr. Carter: We’re talking about the need for some strong mechanisms and some strong structures to undergird this. A strong court system. A strong democracy.
Dr. Ezell: Civil society, yeah.
Dr. Carter: Okay? We’re talking about a society where there are checks and balances between the executive, the judicial and the legislative branches. And I know this all sounds very Jeffersonian but I happen to believe that democracy, in my opinion, ethical democracy is the goal that permits the largest number of people’s voices to be heard and permits the kind of participation that must be required of every individual working out their own soul salvation. People have to be taught to participate in their own self emergence and evolvement. So, this participation must take place on a social level and on a personal level and on an international and a global level. And so, making it impossible for everybody to vote and gerrymandering Blacks and Hispanics out in order to keep one party in power, all these things mitigate against ever getting to the realization of the ultimate beloved economic world community.
Dr. Carter: And when you have the tension that we have right today with threats now from Vladimir Putin over how terrorism is addressed, as he, Vladimir, the President of Russia tries to prop up a government in Syria that has very inhumane practices against its own people, it means no voice can be silent. And it means that religious communities should not elevate partial ministries to the level of whole ministries and try to be spiritual practitioners absent of the prophetic. You see, this is Martin Luther King. I’m talking about a holism that goes beyond unity and emphasizes harmony, okay?
Dr. Carter: What amazes me about Erdogan of Turkey and the Muslims globally is that somehow in all the media that I’m observing, I don’t feel or hear the influence of the Muslim prophets. Yet, when I travel internationally and I go to the greatest mosques on the planet that are often filled at noon or in the evening and I stand and watch them rush in and watch them engage in their prayers and listen to the sermons of the Imam, even from my own Christian background I am awesomely moved at the depth of the sincerity and the power that I sense because you know, we’re all vibrational.
Dr. Ezell: Oh absolutely. Absolutely.
Dr. Carter: And I think this is where it begins, need values, it’s very instinctual but not just instincts but it’s what Maslow calls the Instinctoid. It’s higher than the animal level, there’s something about us that transcends all these false boundaries and I can feel in the Nichiren Buddhist chant Namu Myoho Renge Kyo and in the Muslim prayer, I feel that Islam does mean peace but somehow as I observe the thousands on the floors of the great mosques in the Middle East, I don’t feel or hear or see the voice so magnificently exampled by Martin Luther King and it’s strength and power coming from the Muslim community to address the injustice of Erdogan. And it is a puzzle to me and I feel like there’s more of a demand of the prophetic on the Christian community and even the Christians seem to have fallen silent. So I ask where is the likes of William Sloane Coffin, where is the voice of John Shelby Spong, where is the voice of Martin Luther King Jr.? Just to name three and there’re others.
Dr. Ezell: Thank you for joining us today on Navigating a World in Transition, a podcast brought to you by the Center for the Study of Religion, Culture and Foreign Affairs at Claremont Lincoln University. This podcast focuses on current social issues impacting our global landscape. Be sure to subscribe to this podcast and to learn more about the center, please visit www.claremontlincolnuniversity.edu.
Listen to the Commentary
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Donald: Thank you for joining us and for this episode, I’ll be your host. My name is Donald Guy Robinson, and I’m joined by Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes, the director of the Claremont Core here at Claremont University.
In this episode, we’re going to unpack a powerful interview conducted by Dr. Darrell Ezell and Dr. Lawrence Edward Carter from Morehouse University. We’re going to examine how we can take a cosmic approach when it comes to taking action, to changing our world. We want to help you, the audience, re-think, re-frame, and respond to engage in social positive change today.
Please join us as we navigate a world in transition.
Dr. Carter: And so, around this global emphasis, we started. And then, I shifted from the international and the global, to cosmic. I thought that we had to go in that direction, not just global but cosmic, in light of global warming, all the environmental issues, and the need to emphasize not weaponizing space and enlarging everybody’s address.
I thought just identifying your address by the streets you lived on and your house number was far too local. That when Martin King said, “Injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere,” that was the most succinct definition of Martin King as an ethical cosmopolitan.
And so, I think that today, this emphasis is more important than ever, with a chief executive in the White House who emphasizes America first. I think we cannot lose our concern to love the children in Bangladesh, the Gaza strip, Peking, just as much as we love the children under our own roof.
Donald: So that was Dr. Lawrence Carter, really talking about shifting from a global perspective to a cosmic perspective. And so that was just very powerful in what he was saying. Enlarging everyone’s address is imperative, and so changing the world means, really, changing the world from a cosmic perspective, going beyond just global.
I love how he uses that, how he re-frames the way that we think, because there’s so many things that are involved with just that global perspective. Global warming, global this, global, global that. We even talked about from a global perspective, and now he’s taken it to an entirely new level with this cosmic frame of thought. And the perspective, he says, has to be cosmic, because we need a new vantage point.
We need to see everything, all of these issues that we face today, from the cosmic perspective that Dr. Martin Luther King took into going beyond just the world. How do we change the universe?
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: It blew my mind when he said the word cosmic, because I feel like we have a hard enough time getting people to look outside of their own individual interests. Like, “Do I feel safe in this space, what does my child need, I don’t want homeless people in my backyard.”
So it’s hard enough to get people to think about the good of the community, let alone the good of the school district one town over, let alone another state or another country. And then he’s saying, even further, we need to stretch our empathetic imaginations even further, because our justice and our wellbeing is bound up in theirs.
Donald: Yeah, that’s so true. Because you know, I think about my son.
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: He’s one and a half. He’s little, right?
Donald: He’s one and a half, and when he says to love the children in these Third World countries like we love the children under our own roof, it gave me a different perspective on the way that I thought about those children. You know, I call my son little guy. There’s a little guy somewhere else who doesn’t have food, who doesn’t have the proper parenting, who’s not in a situation, who is no different than my son other than just the fact that he was just born underneath our roof, versus someone who was born into poverty and into all of these different health issues.
How do we expand our love where it just goes beyond what we see?
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: And how is my life enriched and made more just, right, because Dr. Carter references Reverend King saying, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” So what he’s saying is that my family isn’t, indeed, safe, because of our privilege or because of where we live. We are, in fact, in danger because others are in dangers.
Donald: Right, right. That’s a great perspective. That’s a great way to look at because, sometimes, speaking of looking at it, what happens is, “Out of sight, out of mind,” right.
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: Right, exactly.
Donald: If we don’t see these other things, if it wasn’t for some of the things that we see on the news. Thank God for organizations like Feed the Children who brought it to our attention at 11 o’clock at night using a Public Service Announcement to show us children who are not being fed, children who had needs.
But, you know, we have to go beyond that. Figure out a way where could truly make change. If we say that we want to be change-makers, if we say we want to make a difference, then not only making a difference in our own backyard, but we have to travel to go and see what’s going on in these other countries.
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: Right. And not be comfortable.
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: Not be comfortable. Seek out discomfort.
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: So that we will, I mean, trouble the waters, right. Seek out discomfort so that we’ll be motivated.
Donald: Yeah. I love that. Feeling uncomfortable, feeling unease is okay sometimes, because under pressure is when we react and do our best. It’s a different level of focus, you know, when we know that we need to focus. Because we get too stagnant.
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: Right. We get satisfied. I’m like, yeah, complacent, things are going well. My life is good, I’ve got a house. I’ve got WiFi and fresh water.
Donald: Right. But how many people think about, you know, that’s funny you say WiFi and fresh water. There’s so many times where I complain about my internet. Time Warner Cable, oh my goodness, my internet, it’s going out again.
But there’s people today, as we speak, in Puerto Rico without any electricity.
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: How many months, right. And that’s what motivates us to act. You know, Reverend King wasn’t happy. He wasn’t satisfied for white sanitation workers, for white union leaders, for anybody’s children. He was constantly unsatisfied and constantly prodding us and prompting us to do more, to do more, to do more.
Donald: Yeah, yeah. And, you know, when we look at the injustices that even happy 150 years ago, slavery, lynching, things that today we don’t think about, today. Maybe we do, but-
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: They seem like ancient history. The photographs are black and white, they’re engravings. It seems like it must have happened in another time.
Donald: I mean, we’re in Claremont, California, so you think about 10,000 miles away in Montgomery. I’m not sure if I’m great on the geographical mileage here.
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: That’s how far it feels, right. That’s how far it feels.
Donald: Yeah. And so, you know, you’re 4,000 miles away in Montgomery, Alabama, 150 years ago. Again, it goes back to out of sight, out of mind. But how has that affected even what we’re going through today, what we see today, and a lot of things that have happened as far as injustices that have happened years ago that have affected our justice system today.
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: Right, that’s the systematic piece of systematic racism. The reason people haven’t been able to buy property and hold onto property and have generational wealth. Some families of some races were able to buy land and property and pass it on to their children, and pass it on in endowments, and that gives some families of some races an advantage that still is in play.
Donald: Right. So we got to take that cosmic perspective to truly have a social impact on the world and on this universe. Let’s go beyond.
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: Right, and I appreciate how cosmic doesn’t just mean geography, but now you’re pointing to, cosmic also means time. Things that have happened hundreds of years ago, things that could happen hundreds of years in the future. The actions that we take are magnified across time and geography.
Donald: Yeah. That’s it. That’s it. Well, let’s get into this next clip by Dr. Lawrence Carter. And then we’ll be right back. We’re going to talk about how dark the world is today.
Dr. Carter: I want to start with Dr. King. April third, 1968, he mentioned in Memphis, Tennessee, “Only when it’s dark enough can you see the stars.” And I want to ask the question, we can start here, how dark is the world right now?
Darrell: Well, I will begin to respond maybe by saying, it seems strangely dark in a way that it doesn’t seem to have been in recent history, because of the style and the nature of our national leadership.
Never in my lifetime of being politically aware have we had a president who has given us so much evidence of appearing to demonize virtue. And to be oriented toward not speaking the truth with confidence. And he has come along during a time of the digital media where the camera never blinks. And so there’s so much documentation and he seems to forge right on with what has properly become known as “fake news” and “alternative facts.”
Donald: So how dark is the world today?
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: This is intense. This is really hard.
Donald: Yeah. Yeah. You know, I think about the reason why it seems so dark, because we have so much opportunity to shed our light on certain issues. You know, issues that’s brought through social media, issues that are brought about through just mass media, what we see today with the invention of television and the internet.
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: And the 24 hour news cycle.
Donald: And the 24 hour news cycle, exactly.
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: Right. And it’s honestly, it’s a place of privilege to say, “Oh, my goodness, I didn’t know things were so bad.” I interviewed, for In Times Like These, Pastor Gregory Stevens. And we were talking about the protests and outcry after the 2016 presidential election where a lot of privileged white folks were like, “Oh, my gosh, this is terrible.”
And he learned from women of color who were saying to him, “Look, this is a reality. You know, racism has always existed. Misogyny and sexism have always existed. Anti-immigrant bias have always existed. You’re just now seeing it in a way that you haven’t been able to see before.”
So some of the work of activist, and some of the work of social media has really been to amplify that, so now we’re talking about Black Lives Matter, now we’re talking about protesting Starbucks across the spectrum. Not just in niche media, but in all media. So in some ways it feels darker than it has before, but for a lot of people, this has been reality for years and years and years.
Donald: Yeah. That’s a great point. It reminded me of when I used to live in Riverside, California. And for those out there who don’t know what Riverside is, it’s about 60 miles away from Los Angeles. I think the geographical mileage right on that one. So it’s about 60 miles away from Los Angeles, but we got the Los Angeles news.
And so everything that we were seeing on NBC, ABC news, CBS, was really evolved around the city of LA and some of the major events that were happening. You weren’t hearing about incidents or situations that were happening in Riverside or Temecula or Murrieta area, you know, 60 miles into the suburbs of Riverside county.
And then I moved to Palm Springs. Now they have their own news in the Palm Springs area, and I moved to a town called Indio, which is right next to Coachella, where they do the big Coachella fest, music festival, in fact that they’re having this weekend. I started to get the news from there, about shootings and kidnappings that’s happened probably within a 5 to 10 mile radius of where I was living. Now, there wasn’t anything to say that that wasn’t happening in Riverside or in Temecula, I just wasn’t hearing about it.
The news wasn’t shedding light on this dark situation that was surrounding me. And now that I was able to live in an area where they have their own news, where I was able to get news within that area, it allowed for my world to get so much smaller. And that’s what the news has done.
And if you think about that on the perspective of, “Is this world darker?” Well, our world is smaller than what it was before. There are still these dark areas, but now we’re able to see and go, even into the darker corners, and see what’s really going on. We’ve been able to widen the lens, taking that from our human trafficking certificate that we have coming up. Even things like that, human trafficking that’s happening in San Bernardino.
You know, I live in San Bernardino. My address says San Bernardino. Even though we live in a really nice neighborhood, sometimes it’s hard because you don’t really focus on what’s going on in the surrounding communities around you. And so it’s widening that lens and really taking a dive into changing our perspective and digging deeper into what issues are happening.
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: And that’s the point of education. That’s why you take a certificate course, that’s why you do an adult education program at your mosque or synagogue. That’s why you try to expand your worldview. Hopefully we are using Twitter and social media and the world wide web to read news sources.
Now we know that most of us are in our silos, right. We get the news from places people who talk like us and think like us get the news. But we have the opportunity, using mass media, to seek out voices that are different than ours. And we should.
Donald: Could you imagine if there was Twitter back in the 1800s, early 1900s?
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: I would love it. They should do that. Because in reality, we know that murder rates are down. People being killed in war, those numbers are down. The numbers of people dying from polio, from diarrhea, from typhoid, those numbers are down. Like, historically, kidnappings are down. Children are safer today. Women in childbirth are safer today. We have so many advances, you know, in technology and in medicine.
So there’s this tension between the fact that the world is progressing in many ways, and yet we have the ability to focus on the places that haven’t progressed as far as they could.
Donald: Right. That’s a good point. That’s a good point. Yeah.
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: So there has always been scandal. There has always been racism. There has always been sex stories and hush money and love children, and misogyny, and people covering things up. And so if we had Twitter for the 1800s? I think it would look a lot like Twitter does now. People scooping each other, people mud-slinging.
Donald: Yeah. Yeah. Man, we definitely need to, I mean, social media. As much as people, you know, what’s going on in the news with the privacy through Facebook and things like that. You know, if you look at the positive things of social media and how it’s been able to help those to connect with people that we haven’t connected with, connect with stories we haven’t connected with, for us to do online campaigns to help people that in otherwise, like a GoFundMe account or somewhere to raise fundraiser when it happened.
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: Right. Or the so-called Arab Spring. Twitter came of age in that. People were able to say, “The government media is not telling you the truth. I’m going to use my smartphone and capture the protest and put it out for an international audience.”
And it’s amazing, that’s profound.
Donald: It is.
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: Just like, you know, the photographs of Emmett Till? At his funeral, the photographs of his body, the fact that northern newspapers showed that photograph. That was a form of social media that changed sentiment. People were unable to look at his mutilated, murdered body and the grief of his mother. When you see that in a photograph, it changes your heart. It, in a way, galvanizes public action.
Donald: It does. So this world, yeah, the answer to that question is the world is still as dark today, but now we have a greater opportunity to allow for our light to shine even further than what we were able to do before.
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: So we need to keep shining and keep looking and keep acting.
Donald: That’s right. That’s right. Well, let’s go into this last piece real quick, from Dr. Carter. And then we’ll have some final thoughts.
Dr. Carter: And so, when he said, “I break your laws,” in Alabama, to the segregationists, “because they are unjust. They support the uplift of white personality, but not black personality. They were all made by segregationists. White segregationists. Blacks did not participate in the making of these laws. So I break them because they’re unjust, in order to arouse the attention of the community.”
And they emphasized that, “But you’re the reverend, Martin Luther King, and you ought to know better.” And they tried to shame him. But he said, “I also intend to exercise the highest respect for law by my willingness to accept the penalty for breaking your laws. I’m willing to go to jail,” something that the Klansmen weren’t willing to do when they threw stones and hid their hands and covered themselves with sheets.
He was willing to express the highest respect for the dignity of his persecutors and people who disagreed with him because he believed that, regardless of your behavior, that everybody has humanity. And so he was respecting the humanity in everybody, including the segregationists, and as a result of that respect, he had something to appeal to when he wanted to dialogue with them.
Donald: That was powerful.
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: You could spend your life listening to the words, speeches, and letters of Dr. King.
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: And continue to learn something new every time.
Donald: Every time. It’s funny how it’s applicable today.
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: Absolutely.
Donald: What he said 50, 60 years ago, it’s direct correlation-
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: To today. To this minute.
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: And we constantly say, “Oh we need a dialogue, we need a dialogue, we need a dialogue.” But if the parties are not given equal standing and equal regard and equal respect, it’s not a dialogue. It’s a continuation of colonization. Until you and I are treated the same, and treated with same degree of justice, I’m just continuing to talk at you.
I have to be ready to listen to you, and to take your perspective to heart, and to be changed. And until I’m ready to be changed by you, then it’s not dialogue.
Donald: Yeah, yeah. I have been thinking about what’s current, you know, what’s going on today. What happened with the internet at Starbucks? There’s so many times that I go to Starbucks and I think about, you know, I spend too much money there already. My wife always tells me, like, “Hey, you need to stop reloading that Starbucks card because I’m seeing like $10, $15 reloads.”
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: And it adds up.
Donald: “A couple times a week.” And so, I think about like if I was in that situation. I walk into Starbucks so many times and just plop out my laptop, make a mobile order. And from a [inaudible 00:23:29] perspective, it doesn’t look like I’m making an order. Or I’ll walk up to the counter and I ask them for some water. You know, just for water.
It’s like a whole, “You’re not going to purchase anything?” But it’s like, “No, I put in my mobile order.”
And I always walk in with this feeling of, “I need to apologize.” Like, I need to let them know, “Hey, I’m going to be putting in my mobile order soon, I just want to get some work done.” Where, you know, I shouldn’t have to feel that way.
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: Right. But you’re trying to remind them, “I’m a customer. I’m a full human being Starbucks customer, so please see me that way. Don’t see me as a threat, as someone who doesn’t deserve to be here.”
Donald: Yeah. Yes.
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: And this is a great opportunity for dialogue because say I, I’m going to speak for myself, if I am a retail worker and I see someone who for whatever reason makes me feel threatened, I have al to of choices, right.
One of my choices is to call the police. It’s an extreme choice. Another of my choices is to approach you and engage. Like, “Hey, can I help you today?” “No, I’m just waiting for a friend.” Right.
One of my choices might be to say to a colleague, “I feel kind of weird about that person, is that strange?” And give my colleague the chance to say, “Oh, no, they’re just sitting here using WiFi, like, people do that, right.” There are lots of choices we have, and we don’t have to take the extreme choice.
And when I take the extreme choice, I’m categorizing another human being as threat, not as equal.
Donald: Right. That’s a good point. And sometimes, even in trying to make the right decision, not saying it’s the wrong decision, but it’s an uncomfortable decision. Because even if a barista or a manager that came and say, “Hey, can I help you with anything?” Then I feel like, “Did they just, you know, pick me? Like What about.”
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: Absolutely, right. We’ve had black celebrities get profiled in luxury department stores.
Donald: Right. So what do you do in that situation? Is it best to just ignore the situation and treat them like any other customer?
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: You shut everything down and have a racial bias training.
Donald: Like they are on May 28th when they shut down.
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: Right. You admit there’s a problem. You say there’s a problem. There’s a problem because some of us are not seeing all humans as equal.
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: And until we see every human as equal, then we’re not going to have justice.
Donald: Yeah. [inaudible 00:25:58] even I’m guilty of that, sometimes. Even being black in America, I’ll see another black male and still feel threatened in certain instances where I feel like, man. And then I start to figure, “Am I profiling too?” Because of the way that I’m seeing things through the eyes of the way that others see people.
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: Right, and we were talking about that previously today. The systematic piece. The 150 years ago piece. The fact that, I mean, police officers shooting and bullying and harassing people of color. Not all of those police officers are white. And so something is going on when all of us are trained up with bias.
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: All of us.
Donald: All of us.
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: Are living and swimming in water that’s poisoned by bias.
Donald: Right, right. Yeah, there’s a reason why I live where I live. And sometimes when I go back into the community where I should feel like I’m there to help or I’m surrounded by people who are just like me, I feel separated, almost like they are not like me. And so it’s just something that’s kind of been embedded by what you see on the media and we have to be careful.
Dialogue is important. Going into those communities and saying and figuring out, hey, how can I be of help. How can I extend love to you? You know. Even in Starbucks, it’s like, hey, you know what, I see someone in there, if I work at their coffee shop, I’m not going just, you know.
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: Any public space-
Donald: Any public space and then say, “Hey, you know what, let me offer them something for free because I can, and then that’s going to open up that dialogue.” Even if they were a threat, now all of a sudden, maybe they let their guard down just a little bit-
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: Or offer them dignity, not assume that they’re homeless or not assume that they’re mentally ill, or not assume that they’re drug addicted. If someone is one of those things, are they no less human?
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: Are they no less human?
Donald: That’s [inaudible 00:28:07].
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: That’s the call of Dr. King.
Donald: That’s the call.
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: My humanity is bound up in your humanity.
Donald: Yeah. Wow.
Well, that concludes our podcast commentary for-
Dr. Varnon-Hughes: For this immense, rich conversation.
Donald: Yeah, yes, it was. Thank you to Dr. Lawrence Carter and Dr. Darrell Ezell for a wonderful interview and really shedding some light on these issues and these things today, in ways that we can effect the world from a cosmic perspective, and truly make positive change.
Definitely check out part two of this, which is going to be coming down in the weeks to come, where we are going to examine and explore some more things that Dr. Lawrence is saying for more of a spiritual and interfaith perspective.
Stay tuned, thank you guys for listening, and signing off here from Claremont Lincoln University.
Speaker 1: Thank you for joining us today on Navigating Your World in Transition podcast, brought to you by the Center for the Study of Religion, Culture, and Foreign Affairs at Claremont Lincoln University. This podcast focuses on current social issue impacting our global landscape. Be sure to subscribe to this podcast, and to learn more about the Center, please visit www.claremontlincolnuniversity.edu.
In this episode, we discuss:
- Fulfilling Dr. Martin L. King dream today.
- How to become a beloved economic world community.
- How do we go from a global perspective to a cosmic perspective?
- How to combat the issues we face with interfaith connection and dialogue?
- Why the world seems to be darker today than ever before.
Top 3 takeaways from this week’s episode:
1. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”
When Dr. Martin Luther King stated “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” this was the most succinct definition of being an ethical cosmopolitan. We can’t lose the concern for loving children in other countries, just as we love the children under our own roof.
2. “Interfaith Connection”
Dr. Carter discusses his interfaith connection with Daisaku Ikeda and how it has made him a better Christian. He also dives into the relationship between Dr. Martin Luther King and Thich Nhat Hanh. This interfaith connection is important to break down social injustice and develop more interfaith dialogue and collaboration. Our language and our theology need to be updated and retooled to change our perspectives. Although our faith plays an essential role in developing who we become, we can only be judged by the fruits we bare through our actions.
3. “Is the world darker today than ever before?”
In this episode, Dr. Darrell Ezell asks Dr. Carter if the world is darker today. Carter discusses the prevalence of media and it’s global presence today. Dr. Carter examines how the world may be as dark today as it was 150 years ago. The difference is the role social and mass media plays in exposing the dark places.
Mentioned in the episode:
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About the Navigating a World in Transition Podcast
Many of our long-held worldviews and maps of how to see and make sense of the world no longer work with the increasing rate of cultural, political and social change in the past several decades. This podcast series explores how culture and religion can be a major step in creating new maps of how the world really is and how to navigate its complexity and interconnectedness and for the important field of foreign affairs.