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Interfaith service gives nod to importance of religious leaders in King's retinue

CURRIEWhen you consider that Protestants, Catholics, Jews and Buddhists set aside any religious bickering and came together to fight an injustice that violated all their creeds, it makes perfect sense to add an interfaith service to the events at Pacific University’s Martin Luther King Day Celebration.

In his first year as director of the school’s Center for Peace and Spirituality, Rev. Chuck Currie did just that Monday morning, offering hymns and a short sermon to a crowd that filled Old College Hall. As a pastor, Currie feels a connection to King and a personal responsibility to carry on the civil-rights leader’s legacy. “We have the same occupation,” he said.

In a nod to the “Unfulfilled Dreams” theme of the day’s celebration, Currie urged audience members to not give up on the “unfinished temples” of justice and character. Instead, hold on to progress that is handed down from one generation to the next, he said.

Continually working toward justice is the nature of life, he said, so while the temples are still unfinished, “this does not mean that lasting justice is impossible.” He cited the civil-rights movement as evidence of systemic change, including the way it brought together different religions, blacks and whites, men and women.

King’s peaceful protest marches in the 1960s set the stage for voting rights, interracial marriage and gay and lesbian equality, he said. Yet despite such progress — including the election of the country’s first black president — high racial tensions still exist, Currie acknowledged.

“The dream is not yet realized. We are not yet the ‘beloved community,’” he said, using one of King’s favorite phrases.

While the civil-rights movement broke the racist system of the day through a focus on peace and justice, that system is currently fighting back, using violence, hatred and desperation as it always has, Currie said. He noted the death of an unarmed black man in New York at the hands of a white policeman; the violent clashes between police and protestors over similar killings elsewhere; the retaliatory murders of two police officers in New York; and “the shadow of growing economic inequality” across the nation.

Peace may seem a naive goal in a country where guns seem to have become a kind of “idol” for some people, Currie said. But he challenged his audience with the words of former Yale University Chaplain William Coffin: “Peace does not just come rolling in on the wheels of inevitability. We can’t just wish for peace. We have to will it, fight for it, suffer for it, demand it from our governments as if peace were God’s most cherished hope for humanity.”

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