On Sept. 18, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave the eulogy at the funeral for three of the four girls killed in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.
Near the middle of his speech, King said this, referencing the racists responsible for the deaths: “Somehow we must believe that the most misguided among them can learn to respect the dignity and worth of the human personality.”
Fifty-four years later, we’re still struggling to believe that, somehow, those most misguided souls can be transformed.
We were reminded of this struggle last weekend, when someone left a cross draped in pig parts at the Islamic Center in Twin Falls, where the city’s Muslims go to pray in peace. Police are calling it a hate crime.
Such despicable acts raise all kinds of questions. Chiefly, who would do such a thing? And, probably more important, why? To terrorize a peaceful minority group? To impress friends? To throw our community into a tizzy?
Police should have those answers soon.
Meanwhile, we’re left with a larger question about how to deal with those of our residents who still harbor hate in their hearts. They’re a small sliver of our population to be sure, but they’re a toxin nonetheless, and we must do everything to keep this toxin from spreading.
In that same eulogy for the victims in the church bombing, Dr. King also said this: “God still has a way of wringing good out of evil.” We believe that to be true and hope it holds true for the Twin Falls cross incident.
We can wring good out of evil by condemning this act. We can wring good out of evil by speaking up when we hear friends and family dabble in racist notions. We can wring good out of evil by rallying around the victims, by donating, volunteering or simply calling or writing to say we stand with them. We can pray for God’s strength.
What we cannot do, as Dr. King surely would recommend to us if he were here, is nothing. Hate grows in apathy. We cannot afford to passively accept it when a racist lashes out in our community.
The same goes for the sort of passive racism we often witness in our daily lives. When some reacted to the cross incident with amusement, like it was funny, on social media, many more rightly called them out. Those who suggested the incident was a kind of false flag, claiming, with no evidence at all, mosque worshipers placed the cross there in an attempt to stir up sympathy or conflict, where met with equal condemnation.
The truth is, it will take many thousands of small acts on our part to teach and demonstrate in our own lives that we accept the dignity and worth of the human personality, to help God wring good out of evil.
It’s a tall task, surely. But we believe Twin Falls is up to it.