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What I want you to know about Bending the Moral Arc by Denyse Leslie

[God] has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God?”

—Micah 6:8

What is Bending the Moral Arc Courageous Conversations?

Bending the Moral Arc: Courageous Conversations on Race and Justice* is a lay-led program that pairs two churches interested in embarking on a racial and social justice journey together. Once organized into small groups, congregants of disparate races and backgrounds engage with tough questions – right out of the headlines. White and Black, Republican and Democrat and Progressive – what do we believe and think about a given story and our America?

What Does Bending the Moral Arc Refer to?

*“We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

While these words are attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as he used them in several now-famous speeches between 1965 and 1968, Theodore Parker (1810–1860), an abolitionist and Unitarian theologian, first used the phrase predicting the inevitable end of slavery. “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 the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see, I am sure it bends towards justice.” Parker’s words would later inspire speeches by many, including Abraham Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Why Be Part of this Witherspoon and Nassau Effort?

As a Black woman who is closer to 70 than 17, I have spent many years as the only Black or one of a few in academic and work settings. I have been the example, the representative who is asked to speak up about my race and what Blacks think and do in a given situation. It is at Church, at Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church, where I am in the majority. I don’t get those questions or looks or have those expectations placed upon me.

Because Witherspoon and Nassau have worked together over many years on racial and social justice, I believe something significant could emerge. I felt called to do something about Matthew 25, notably Dismantling Systemic Racism. I liked that our effort was lay-led, not top-down. With five Witherspoon and five Nassau people, we could meet and talk about George Floyd’s murder, Housing and Health Disparities, Policing the Police, Voter Suppression, and even Restorative Justice and Reparations. We could also turn Talk into Actions. We could educate ourselves on how these matters are playing out locally in Princeton, NJ – Mercer County, and across the US, but also within organizations and places in which we work and participate.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.

Joshua 1:9

After meeting and hearing different perspectives, many of my attitudes were changed -- my spiritual and racial justice journey is being transformed. I have gained deeper relationships with Nassau people whom, heretofore, I had worked with on committees or worshipped with. Now we are in a place where bending the moral arc with one or two initiatives is well within our grasp.

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