Archive for April 21st, 2021

The Arc


I do not pretend to understand the moral universe. The arc is a long one. My eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by experience of sight. I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.

-Theodore Parker, 1853 Sermon

The excerpt above from Unitarian minister Theodore Parker in the Abolitionist years before the American Civil War was the source for a popular quote from another famed minister. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. later condensed Parker’s words into a quote that has become almost an anthem in recent times–  The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

Yesterday provided some small proof of this moral arc bending toward justice. I was holding my breath as the judge in the George Floyd murder case rendered the jury’s verdict. When he announced that the officer was guilty of all three counts, I felt a great sense of relief overtake my body. It was not a moment of jubilation or joy. This may ha been a pivotal moment in the way in which this country moves forward and had the verdict went the other way, we might be looking at a much different scenario today.

Feeling that justice was finally served in some way, I immediately thought of King’s words. However, it kind of nagged at me because I knew that this was not some sort of preordained result, not some sort of karmic return that was meant to occur.

No, it was the result of an outcry and vigilance. Had it not been for the courage of a seventeen year old young lady with an IPhone camera who was willing to document the atrocity she was witnessing, if not for throngs willing to take to the streets during the height of a deadly pandemic, if not for police officers who could no longer turn a blind eye to the criminal behavior of some of their brothers in blue, the moral arc might not yet be bending. 

Nothing, especially justice, is preordained. Change, including the bending of the moral arc of the universe, is the result of actions taken. Without the will and the courage to continue to attempt to bend that arc, it will never head completely toward justice.

While I love the belief of Dr. King’s words, I think I prefer Parker’s longer message where he adds that he can divine by conscience, meaning, I believe, that he knew that the will and effort to bend that arc was a critical necessity but that it was at hand.

There is much work to be done. It is not a time for celebration. Even my sense of relief should be avoided because for every action there is a reaction.

Those hate-filled folks who have a different view of where justice rests on the moral arc of the universe are not going away any time soon. They will continue to try to warp the arc toward their own vision, seeming to believe that denying rights and dignity to others somehow elevates their own. 

In fact, diminishing the rights of any one of us diminishes the rights of us all.

So, let’s stay watchful, responsive and brave, folks, okay? It’s up to us alone–you and me and all our friends– to bend that arc towards a form of justice that blindly and equally serves each and every one of us.



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