Malice, Charity and Binding Up Wounds

by Jerry King

This month we paused to mark 50 years since the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. And seven short weeks from now we will remember the death of Robert Kennedy also 50 years ago. Surely that was one of the most aggrieved times in our history since the Civil War. Indeed, as it was in 1968, now in 2018, words from the Civil War come to us like a restless ghost:  "malice toward none, charity for all, firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, strive on, finish the work we are in, bind up the nation’s wounds; achieve just and lasting peace…"

President Lincoln spoke those words in his Second Inaugural Address, in March, 1865. The war would not end for another month. So, he urged that the nation must still, “with firmness in the right, strive on, finish the work we are in.” But, he said, we must look now to reconciliation. Even before we had stopped fighting, it was time to begin to bind wounds. But what do we suppose Lincoln meant by binding up wounds? To attend to the needs of the suffering, give care and support? To forgive and be forgiven? To embrace, include, reconcile with the estranged?

Today’s civil conflict is not distinguished by blue and grey uniforms or infantry charges, even though the  work we have to do is also urgent and vital– we may say founded on firmness in the right.  So, we take heart in seeing a broad, diverse, progressive center of gravity for justice, non-violence and responsive government – affirmations of faith in the power of the people – coalesce and gain momentum from youth-led and women’s movements. 

But in today’s often angry environment, when righteous indignation shouts from both sides of the barricades, forgiving and embracing are harder to think about. So, can we even now, when the struggle has not abated, seek pathways to reconciliation? As always, the Earth Charter is a source of language that is inclusive, non-judgmental and essentially compassionate. The following is representative.

Life often involves tensions between important values. This can mean difficult choices. However, we must find ways to harmonize diversity with unity, the exercise of freedom with the common good, short-term objectives with long-term goals. Every individual, family, organization, and community has a vital role to play.

Earth Charter