Originally published in the King’s Stanley Magazine.
“People are all the same.” “Everybody is unique.”
These statements seem to be contradictory; if one is true then the other must be mistaken. If we take an “either/or” approach, then we might try to work out which statement is false. But if we take a “both/and” approach, we could appreciate the strengths of both viewpoints. The first is about what humans share and have in common while the second is about how each one of us is different from everyone else.
I had been looking forward to hearing him speak – world famous, a Nobel Laureate – at the World Youth Conference I was due to attend. But then he was assassinated on 4th April 1968. Martin Luther King had been loved by many, as a champion of human dignity in the battle against Segregation in the United States. He was hated by many others. If we pause to ask ourselves why they hated him, what answer(s) can we come up with? We can state the obvious and say, “Well, he was Black, and they were White.” In writing that, and as you read that, it doesn’t make much sense. It is an answer that doesn’t answer anything at all. It begs a whole series of further questions.
Martin Luther King held both our opening statements to be true. Humans have so much in common across barriers of race, class, gender, language, age, educational attainments, and so on. Yet each human being is unique, and as such has an intrinsic worth and dignity. Yes, there is difference when it comes to human beings, but this is to be celebrated and seen positively as an enrichment, rather than negatively as a problem to be resolved by barriers and separation.
Christian Aid week will be celebrated 13th-20th May. Poorer people have the same needs as we do for food, clean water, and shelter. This is an opportunity to give something from our plenty to help others less fortunate than ourselves. They also have an intrinsic worth and dignity which Christian Aid seeks to uphold and recognise. Meanwhile, reflecting on Martin Luther King’s legacy can challenge each of us to consider whether there are groups or categories of people whom we need to see in a different light – in an accepting and positive light. After all, as Christians, we believe that God created all humans in his image (people are all the same), and that Jesus Christ died for every single (unique) person.
Robert Draycott (Rev)