To Redeem the Soul of America

Whenever there are billions of dollars and then billions more available to bomb Baghdad, but never enough to rebuild New Orleans, an American city, parts of which still look like a Third World country a year and a half after Katrina, our soul is in danger. How can you bomb and then rebuild Baghdad and neglect New Orleans, that great city that taught our souls how to sing even when you have the blues?

New Orleans bears mention tonight because it is a tragic symbol of America's misplaced priorities and its unfinished business with poverty. ... It took Congress 10 years to have a serious debate about raising the minimum wage. It raised its own wages every year during the same 10-year period. And this week, Congress dared to tie an overdue raise in the minimum wage for the poor to the funding of the war. Triplet evils: Racism, poverty, war. Souls in danger!

And so we must tap into the best of our respective faith traditions in order to redeem the soul of America. I remember my own crucified people who endured the cross of slavery and segregation. They identified with Jesus because existentially they knew what crucifixion was all about. In the spiritual, they asked, "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?" And during the era of Jim Crow segregation, they identified with this Jesus hung on a tree because they knew what lynching was all about. Billie Holiday used to sing about it. "Southern trees bear strange fruit. Blood on the leaves, blood at the root. Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze. Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees." His own ruthless brutality notwithstanding, I could not help but hear that haunting song as I watched Sadaam Hussein hang at our behest. I thought to myself, "Surely, we're better than that!" And before that the violent carnival and absurd human cruelty of Abu Ghraib. Surely, we're better than that! And then to witness the neglect of our own soldiers at Walter Reed! Surely, we're better than that!

We need a surge of troops in the nonviolent army of the Lord. We need to lift high the cross as "an eternal symbol of the extent to which God is willing to go to restore broken communities."

Rev. Raphael G. Warnock, senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, spoke these words at the National Cathedral service. (© 2007 All rights reserved.)

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