Thursday, July 16, 1987

KBOO 16 July 1987

I was in Atlanta last month with others from Portland. We were there along with 300 people from 29 countries to attend an international conference for Moral Re-Armament with the theme ‘Building for the future.’

Atlanta is a city which, as Mayor Andrew Young said welcoming us, had good reason to brag. Not only had its airport just been recognized as the world’s biggest and busiest; not only had the city received $34 billion of new investment and generated 400,000 new jobs in the past five years. But also it ‘may be the only place in the world where we honestly had a prayerful revolution.’

Referring to the years of the civil rights struggle, Young said that initiators of confrontation and change had almost always begun their action with a prayer and, after a solution came, those confrontations ‘ended with a prayer of reconciliation.’ This tradition had been passed on from generation to generation in both black and white leaders, said the mayor, and an ad hoc committee of blacks and whites had resolved many of Atlanta’s problems before they had become too serious. ‘We couldn’t be what we are today,’ he said, ‘without a strong sense of moral conviction.’

Responding to the mayor’s welcome, Rajmohan Gandhi, author and grandson of the Mahatma, urged the city ‘to export its stirring story to the four corners of the world.’ At a time when ‘members of the human race are doing terrible things to one another in different parts of the world, what God has used all of you to achieve encourages us all.’

Young responded, ‘I know what has happened here can be exported because we imported so much from Mr Gandhi’s grandfather. What has happened here will happen soon in South Africa, the Middle East and Ireland.’

Earlier Gandhi had placed a wreath on the tomb of Martin Luther King. ‘We hear the word liberty around us,’ he said. ‘but so many of us have turned liberty into something horrible. It is a great thing to be able to draw inspiration from the life of Martin Luther King in the struggle for true liberty for all parts of the world.’ To be part of the party laying the wreath, was, for Kathryn Bogle from Portland, a ‘very special highlight.’

The choir from Martin Luther’s Ebenezer Baptist Church participated in the conference as did others whose names are also known from the civil rights struggle like the Reverends Ralph Abernathy, John Perkins and Leon Sullivan.

The ‘Atlanta Daily World’ reminded those attending that Atlanta 1987 was a very different city from the one when Moral Re-Armament had a major impact on race relations 30 years before. The paper described what happened when Moral Re-Armament brought to Atlanta a musical called ‘The Crowning Experience’. This was built round the story of a great black educator, Mary McLeod Bethune, who started life as daughter of slave parents and rose to become adviser to two presidents.

The issue then, wrote the paper, was desegregation. It was just after the disturbances in Little Rock. The play began with two performances in the civic auditorium, one of the few places open to black and white at the same time: ‘Sixty plain clothes policemen mingled with the crowd, prepared for an  explosion. The Jewish corner of the Tower ‘came with trepidation, and left with exultation.’ We approached the Moral Re-Armament cast and offered them this theater without any color bar for as long as they could fill it. The play ran for four months, without incident – except the precedent of interracial audiences pouring through the doors.’

The paper quoted pioneer black attorney, Colonel A T Walden, ‘Atlanta will never be the same again. The atmosphere throughout the city, the shops, and buses (at that time just being desegregated) changed, and was the talk of the town.’

The messages of the play and of Moral Re-Armament, the paper wrote in an editorial, was ‘generally accepted and supported and left a great impact…we pray for its continued good influence and success.’

Sessions of the conference were held at Emory University Law School and the Carter Presidential Center. ‘I see this gathering,’ said host Conrad Hunte, ‘as the kick-off of a national campaign that will shift the terms of the ethics debate from the negative focus of collapsing moral values in public and private lives, to the positive focus of large aims and a heightened purpose in life in which absolute moral  standards are both necessary and exciting.’

At the various sessions evidence was given of conflicts resolved, both in families and in international affairs. Christian and Jew, Hindu and Muslim and Buddhist, people from many backgrounds spoke of what could be achieved when you started with yourself and stopped blaming others. A Cambodian, Renee Pan, a member of the Minnesota State Advisory Council on Refugees, said that she had found it hard to forgive the Khmer Rouge but that the burden of revenge she had carried for a decade was lightened the moment she did so. A computer specialist, she said, ‘Human memory is unlimited when compared with computer memory, But, if the memory is loaded with impurities, it is unable to solve even  a simple problem. Forgiveness freed some megabytes in my memory. I dare to solve problems on a larger scale, with less CPU time, in a more efficient way.’

Journalist Bob Webb, evaluating the conference for the ‘Cincinnnati Enquirer’ was in Atlanta last month with others from Portland, wrote, ‘Rooted in the premise that unity begins when people begin to measure themselves, their motives and their aims by absolute moral standards and listen to and obey their ‘inner voice’,  offered a bridge-building hope not always apparent at international gatherings.’

The Atlanta conference and the changes in the city in the last 30 years contribute in many ways to a fulfillment of the vision of Peter Howard, the British journalist and pioneer of Moral Re-Armament when he spoke to the blacks in Atlanta’s Wheat Street Baptist Church in 1964: ‘I do not say, "Be patient." I say "Be passionate for something far bigger than color. Be passionate for an answer big enough to include everybody, powerful enough to change everybody, fundamental enough to satisfy the longings for bread, work and the hope of a new world that lies in the heart of the teeming millions of the earth.’’'