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The Long, Hard Bend toward Justice

About 150 years ago, Unitarian minister Theodore Parker wrote in one of his great sermons, “Look at the facts of the world. You see continual and progressive triumph of right. 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 toward justice.”

About forty years ago, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. summed up the same sentiment saying, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” After a polite pat on the back for being able to claim (yet again) a religious lineage to powerful movers and wordsmiths in our nation’s history, I wonder if this sentiment can possibly be true. What do you think?

I’ve been worried lately. I’m not one much for worrying, but there is much afoot these days to make anyone worried. I’m too young to be this cynical about the world. Yet I am occasionally struck by the sense of apathy around me and by the feelings of powerlessness within me. What can I do to make a difference? As a Unitarian Universalist minister, I am supposed to be a purveyor of high principles, a dealer in good deeds, a merchant of meaningfulness, a huckster for hope. Yet too often I look at the facts of the world and fail to see a bending of the moral arc.

Of course, much of this depends on what you are looking for. Much also depends on what you are doing for your part in the grand story of the moral universe! At times when I feel I cannot see what Parker and King saw, I submerge myself in the work: I look people in the eye, I listen to my children’s dreams, I smile at strangers, I write letters to the newspaper and my government representatives, I look and I listen and I smile and I write and then I listen some more. Indeed, I lack evidence to bolster my perspective, and sometimes I doubt my own conclusions – but what else can I do?

There is work to do, people to love, worlds to save, justice to manifest! At times, I feel that all I can attest is that the moral arc is long with no line on which way it bends. Occasionally, though, I look and I do see the long, hard bend toward justice! I see it in us and others who care. Perhaps, the moral arc bends as it does because you and I and others with us through the ages are pulling hard to make it so.