Civil war in our souls, America’s soul sickness, redeeming the soul of America

But what if one’s heart was sick with sin? Would that pollute the dream? He pointed out in his sermon, as he had so many times before, that forces of good and evil were locked in a cosmic death dance, though good would ultimately prevail. Every human being internalized this struggle.

“And in every one of us this morning, there’s a war going on. (Yes, sir) It’s a civil war (Yes, sir). There is a civil war going on in your life. Every time you set out to be good, there’s something pulling on you, telling you to be evil. (Preach it) Every time you set out to love, something keeps pulling on you, trying to get you to hate. (Yes. Yes, sir) There is a schizophrenia. There are times that all of us know somehow that there is a Mr. Hyde and a Dr. Jekyl in us.

“I want you to know this morning that I’m a sinner like all of God’s children. But I want to be a good man. (Yes. Preach it)”
He reassured his flock and himself that God judged all of them by “the total bent of our lives.” God required that your heart was right. “Salvation isn’t reaching the destination of absolute morality, but it’s being in the process and on the right road.” One found salvation in the heartfelt struggle to keep one’s higher self right side up.

For King the road to redemption was to return from the “far country,” the dark places of physical and spiritual extravagance, to repent for his sins and come home.For America, the road to redemption was to come home from the “tragic far country” of racism, war, and poverty amid plenty.

“There’s a famine in this country, a moral and spiritual famine, because somewhere America strayed away from home. I can hear the voice of God saying, ‘America, it isn’t too late if you will only come to yourself.’” Like his own country, King had to slough off the waste, empty himself of extravagance, of his overflow of ego, and find the courage to walk humbly with his God. King and his country had to follow the same road to salvation. [407-09]

Dedicated to the faith that personal and social rebirth were interwoven, King believed that his nation should follow the same course of naked exposure and moral cleansing. He was not urging America to fall from grace, to seal its doom. He was not preaching, like millennialist doomsayers, that the nation had to be destroyed in order to be saved. He was doing his utmost to better the society both short and long-term, to save America by healing its wounds.

What he was saying was that in order to be reborn, to be redeemed, the nation had to humble itself, eschew its arrogance. It had to burrow into the depths of its own soul to face the evil at its core—the evil of which a quarter millennium of slavery was metaphor as well as reality, as Lincoln had suggested in his Second Inaugural address. By cleansing itself of its triple evils of racism, human exploitation, and war making, the United States of America could return to the divine mission of enlightenment that was promised in the sacred covenant of the Declaration of Independence. [437]


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