The lingering vestiges of America's racist past present a serious challenge to the hope that many hold for a nation that lives out its most cherished values - liberty and justice for all.
Persistent recurrences of racial incidents such as Jena, La., remind us that hatred and animosity still fester. Suspicion lurks under the surface of many interactions. Even the government's response to Hurricane Katrina is often criticized as manifesting discernable racial discrepancies.
Movies like Crash, the news coverage of the Duke University lacrosse team sex-party debacle, and even the prospect of a Black presidential nominee in the 2008 elections remind us of the tenuous and fragile nature of racial harmony in the United States of America.
We seem to live under an uneasy truce.
What Happened to Martin Luther King's Dream?
It has been more than four and a half decades since the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech was delivered. Yet none of us can say we have fully lived up to Dr. King's vision of a land where each person would be judged by the content of their character, rather than the color of their skin.
Tensions continue, and weekly we hear of yet another incident somewhere in our country where race is presented as a precipitating factor.
Things are different today than they were 45 years ago. Yet the question remains, why has it been so difficult for us to embrace and consistently live out Dr. King's dream?
Why Tolerance Became a Substitute for the Dream
In the wake of the civil rights movement in which Dr. King was so dramatically used, there came a flood of social programs that sought to address the causes and consequences of racism. Cultural education, cross cultural dialogue, and the current multi-culturalism all hearken back to the civil rights movement for their mandates.
In the pursuit of the rights of various groups, under the civil rights umbrella, one thing has become clear. That which was called right by one group is often called wrong by another.
Rather than resolving the differences, tolerance is championed as the appropriate response to the varying perspectives that have emerged.
Why Tolerance Does Not Work
Yet tolerance has neither cohesive nor healing power in society.
Tolerance means little more than leaving one another alone. It leads to indifference, not understanding. Tolerance allows the gulfs between us to remain in place. In fact, there is little in the concept of tolerance alone to pull us away from racial isolation.
Tolerance brings with it an implicit moral relativism. Who is to say what is right and what is wrong? Moral relativism suggests that there are no absolutes to which we can all be held accountable. Such a thing was far from the thinking of Martin Luther King. In one of his works Dr. King makes the following statements:
"At the center of the Christian faith is the affirmation that there is a God in the universe who is the ground and essence of all reality. A Being of infinite love and boundless power, God is the creator, sustainer, and conserver of values...In contrast to the ethical relativism of [totalitarianism], Christianity sets forth a system of absolute moral values and affirms that God has placed within the very structure of this universe certain moral principles that are fixed and immutable."