Special Feature: A reading for Martin Luther King Day
Of great significance in grappling with the meaning of our human existence is the need for each individual to understand and define his or her role as a thoughtful and self-conscious member of the family of man. In this sense we are always human beings first and Latter-day Saints second. Simply stated, being a decent human being is a prerequisite to being a decent Latter-day Saint.…
Between 1962 and 1966 a good deal of racial turmoil erupted in some areas of the country. In the university community of Lawrence, Kansas, the topic provoked heated debate, while throughout the South the issue exploded in force and violence. In Lawrence, a border town in a border state, I often heard the condescending remark, "Our blacks are good; they know their place." In areas where black Americans were unrelentingly insisting on their right to exist as human beings, the militant counter-demand was "put them in their place."
In the midst of this turmoil, one of our fellow students, a bright young Latter-day Saint from Idaho became so disgusted with what he saw as the brutalizing of the human spirit in such places as Selma, Jackson, and Tuscaloosa that he left school, a scholarship, and, as we thought, a future of great promise to join with those who were marching, protesting, and sometimes dying. Our reaction in the safe little Mormon community at the university was one of abhorrence and disbelief. In our sorrow for the one "lost," we cast about for an explanation and rationalized that we had not really known him, that the pressures of school had rendered him irresponsible. Whatever his reasons, we agreed that he was wasting his life in a vain effort.
As I think about it today, I wonder, as I have done for years: Where was I? Why did I not join him? Where were we all when humanity demanded that we oppose a thing so wicked that to read about it today or to see it depicted on the screen causes deep anguish and revulsion at the inhumanity of man toward his brother? I would like to think I just lacked courage in not joining Rick on his journey into the South. I could even accept my decision had it been nourished by a commitment to family and education. But it wasn't. What I have to accept and live with is that, at the time, I, like many others, simply did not care….
As part of the challenge inherent in our humanness, may we see ourselves as numbered with those who are the shepherds of this planet. In directing us to be our brothers' keepers to do "unto one of the least of these" (Matt. 25:40), to "remember the poor" (D&C 42:30), and to "think of your brethren like unto yourselves" (Jacob 2:17), the Savior assigns us stewardships—as much because we are members of the human family as because of our membership in his Church. As followers of him who loved and loves us all, we must avoid being part of the world's problems. As we strive for this, however, we cannot forget that we alone provide those problems' ultimate solution. For this reason, we should go eagerly and joyously into the world, recognizing that we cannot be the leaven if we are not part of the loaf.
To more fully accomplish this, we must all succumb to the awareness that brotherhood is not defined by color, creed, or secular commitment. Nor is it superficially lyrical or romantic, but is an expression of actual fact. All of mankind, the non-Mormon Christian or non-Christian, the one-billionth Chinese, and the disease-ravaged beggar on a filthy street corner in India are our brothers and sisters, and each has claim on our love, our substance, and the reassuring grasp of our hand. If we fail to recognize and yield to this principle, our approach to true and meaningful worship is diminished, being exclusive rather than inclusive, and we falter in our attempt to do well all else that God commands.
The main gateway to Brigham Young University bears a motto that declares, "The World Is Our Campus." May I add that even more than that, for all of us as Latter-day Saints the world is our home and its people are our people. Their needs are our needs; their pain our pain. May our view of life be as broad and deep as his who wept and suffered and died for all mankind. This is the gospel of Christ: to become as he admonished us to be, even as he is.