MLK Day 2021 Celebration
“I propose that you, Mr. President, declare [a] state of moral emergency …
The hour calls for high moral grandeur and spiritual audacity.”
—Rabbi Abraham Heschel
These words are the heart of a message that Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel sent by telegram to President John F. Kennedy Jr. on June 16, 1963, in advance of their meeting scheduled for the next day. In his telegram, Rabbi Heschel was lamenting the state of affairs at the time within our country as they related to the pressing moral issues of justice and equity. Heschel urged President Kennedy to “demand of religious leaders personal involvement and not just solemn declaration … church[es] and synagogues have failed. They must repent.”
Although Heschel escaped the genocidal wrath of the Nazi regime during the Holocaust, his mother and three of his four sisters as well as numerous members of his extended family were killed. Not only did Heschel endure all of those things; he also endured the frustration of seeing people all across Europe (and around the world) do nothing as millions of Jews and others were killed during the Holocaust. With this context in mind, Heschel saw the inaction and apathy that existed in America in the 1960s with prophetic clarity. As a result, he committed his life as a scholar, theologian, teacher and author to consistently shed light on the atrocities being committed against marginalized and oppressed people in general, and the American descendants of enslaved persons in particular, a tragic legacy that stretches back to 1619 (see The New York Times “The 1619 Project” for more information on the history of enslaved Black Americans).
Heschel is also well known to the Seventh-day Adventist community for his powerful work on the Sabbath. In his book on the Sabbath, Heschel wrote, “The Sabbath is the most precious present mankind has received from the treasure house of God. All week we think: The spirit is too far away, and we succumb to spiritual absenteeism, or at best we pray: Send us a little of Thy spirit. On the Sabbath, the spirit stands and pleads: Accept all excellence from me.”
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. considered his friend, Rabbi Heschel, “one of the truly great men of his day” and a “great prophet.” King valued Heschel’s messages to many Jewish Americans and African Americans which promoted the idea that each person and group had a responsibility for each other’s liberation and for the plight of all suffering fellow humans around the world. Further, King and Heschel would provide keynote addresses at many of the same functions, and Heschel also marched alongside King, John Lewis and others across the Edmund Pettus bridge during the famous voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965.
King’s and Heschel’s shared and committed examples of advocacy were not just for the self but also for the other as they stood in solidarity in the fight to liberate all humans around the world. That advocacy remains as a powerful reminder of the fact that we, as King said, “... are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be … This is the interrelated structure of reality.”
This year, the MLK Planning Committee, under the direction of committee chair Paulette Johnson, has chosen the theme “Spiritual Audacity: The Moral Response.” Heschel’s call for a declaration of a state of moral emergency nearly 60 years ago still seems tragically relevant and appropriate today. So, as we gather together next week to honor the life of Dr. King, we will also explore what the moral response should be in the wake of the awful attack against the United States Capitol building last week, an act of domestic terrorism that has left our nation reeling. In this current and challenging context, what might spiritual audacity look and sound like in our own day and age and in response to acts of violence in our world?
Our MLK Celebration will begin with a virtual University Forum Zoom webinar at 10:30 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 18. It will also be streamed live on the Andrews University YouTube Channel. Our keynote speaker will be Martin Doblmeier, a documentary filmmaker who has produced a series of three films called “Prophetic Voices” which highlighted the lives of Dorothy Day, Howard Thurman and Abraham Heschel. Doblmeier is the founder and president of Journey Films, a documentary film production company in Alexandria, Virginia, with a focus on religion, faith and spirituality. He has produced 35 major documentary films that have been broadcast mostly on PBS but also on many other outlets. His films include BONHOEFFER about the famed pastor and Nazi resister, The Power of Forgiveness, and three films about Seventh-day Adventists. Martin has three regional Emmy Awards and eight Gabriel Awards for the best film on a topic of religion. He also has three honorary degrees for his work, including a degree from Andrews University.
Our celebration will continue Monday afternoon with a premiere screening of Martin Doblmeier's final documentary in the Prophetic Voices trilogy, “Spiritual Audacity: The Abraham Heschel Story,” from 2:30–3:30 p.m. EST on the Andrews University YouTube Channel. The documentary will not be available on the AU YouTube channel following the premiere. However, it will be released on DVD later this month and will air on PBS later this spring.
Immediately following the premiere, a panel discussion with the filmmaker, Martin Doblmeier, will be held as a separate event from 3:30–4:30 p.m. on Zoom Webinar. It will also be streamed live on the Andrews University YouTube Channel. Viewers of the documentary will be instructed on how to join the panel discussion prior to and following the screening. Members of the panel include:
- Willie E. Hucks, chair, Department of Christian Ministry (moderator)
- Martin Doblmeier, filmmaker
- Rabbi Dan Levin, senior rabbi of Temple Beth El in Boca Raton, Florida
- Jacques B. Douhkan, professor emeritus of Hebrew and Old Testament exegesis; director, Institute of Jewish-Christian Studies; general editor, SDA International Bible Commentary
- Vanessa Corredera, chair, Department of English
- Keila Carmona, graduate student in Young Adults & Youth Ministry and Social Work
Also next week, Tuesday, Jan. 19, marks the 5th Annual National Day of Racial Healing. In light of last week’s attack on our nation’s Capitol building, we recognize that many in our community need a space to process what they are feeling. In keeping with the theme of this day, our Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Campus Center is partnering with the Center for Faith Engagement to provide a template for story circle discussions. We hope that this format will provide an intentional virtual space for sharing within smaller groups across our campus that will allow the opportunity for much needed deep reflection and empathetic listening rooted in the power of each of our own stories.
If you are interested in facilitating one of these discussions with your department, fellow students, or co-workers, please feel free to download the materials here. Make sure you are logged into your University Google Drive account before accessing the materials. We are encouraging everyone to participate in this at 11:30 a.m., but feel free to select the time that works best for you. If you have any other questions or comments, feel free to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and/or Chaplain Bourget (email@example.com).
We look forward to celebrating the legacy of Dr. King next week by highlighting the powerful ministry of Rabbi Heschel as well as reflecting on our personal journeys. We hope that the spiritual audacity shown by King and Heschel, in the face of insurmountable odds, will inspire us as we consider what our moral response should be in these complex and difficult times that we face.
As the old African proverb states, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” King and Heschel understood the necessity of going together—even though that path can be more difficult and take much longer. In the end, they knew, and we can be sure, that going together will take us much further along the path to true liberty, justice and equity for all. I look forward to walking together with you as we take that journey, one deliberate step at a time.
Grace and peace,
Vice President for Diversity & Inclusion