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A Sunday fit for a King

Church services hail civil-rights leader’s calls for nonviolence

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Love your enemy, raise the minimum wage and drop the sales tax on food — church services Sunday honoring the 77th anniversary of the birth of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. were an occasion to hope that mankind and the Utah Legislature will heed the civil-rights leader's call for peace and justice.

Racial injustices — the backdrop of much of King's life and work — were alluded to but it was his call for nonviolence and his broader dreams for an end to poverty that took center stage.

At a special late-afternoon service at All Saints Episcopal Church on Salt Lake City's east bench, the Rev. Gwyneth Murphy urged a mostly white crowd to "be aware of power and privilege" and to continually ask themselves how to use their position to make a difference.

Her own dream, she said, was that the division between haves and have-nots will diminish, not so much because of charity (save that for acts of nature like hurricanes, she said) but by taking measures that will bring an end to poverty itself.

The Rev. Murphy is one of 38 Utah religious leaders who have signed a letter to Utah Senate President John Valentine asking the Legislature to remember that King, in his famous "I have a dream" speech, called for a national minimum-wage act "that will give all Americans a decent standard of living."

Sunday's interfaith service, sponsored by the Anti-Hunger Action Committee, the Coalition of Religious Communities, Crossroads Urban Center, the Utah Poverty Partnership and the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, included a reworked hymn to the tune of "Onward Christian Soldiers" that instead urged "Onward, Christian workers, marching on to peace."

"The whole idea of justice and peace is interlinked," said the Rev. Daniel Webster.

The Rev. E. Brian Hare-Diggs of Salt Lake's First United Methodist Church led the group in a prayer for peace that lamented the violence of capital punishment, wars in the Middle East and "the escalating violence of poverty," and urged instead, "Let us escalate love."

At Calvary Baptist Church earlier in the day, the Rev. France Davis reminded his congregation that Martin Luther King Jr. was not only a civil-rights leader, he was a preacher and a man of faith. Although the Rev. Davis was in Washington when King delivered his most famous speech, the pastor chose not to talk about dreams or oppression or freedom. With only an oblique reference to King's belief in non-violent civil disobedience, the Rev. Davis urged his congregation to "love your enemy." That requires, first, taking "a good look" at yourself, he said. That was the message King had for people who wanted to march for civil rights, said the Rev. Davis, who himself marched with King from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. "Before you can march, go home and get your own situations under control. Make sure you know who you are," was King's message, the Rev. Davis said.

Then take a good look at your enemy, he told the congregation. "If you look at him long enough you'll discover he's made in the image of God, just like yourself." And then, the Rev. Davis added, remember that "when you have an opportunity to see your enemy, don't try to destroy him."

"The sign that you're a child of God," he said, "is that you not only love those like you, but you love your enemy."

E-mail: jarvik@desnews.com