The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke often of Franz Schubert’s unfinished symphony.
The Austrian composer completed just two of its movements before his death. That fact spoke to King, who believed that his work, too, would be unfinished, the Rev. Raphael G. Warnock said to the hundreds who gathered for an interfaith worship service at Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church in Augusta on Thursday.
“Martin Luther King Jr. composed his own symphony. It was brilliant and bold and beautiful, but it was unfinished,” said Warnock, the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist, which was King’s home church in Atlanta.
The fifth annual event, titled “Keeping the Dream Alive: Why Dr. King Still Matters,” was sponsored by the Progressive Religious Coalition of Augusta. An offering was designated to Child Enrichment, Inc of Augusta, which serves physically and sexually abused children, in the hope that the children might "experience the legacy of Dr. King."
During the service, Baptist, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, Unitarian Universalist, Muslim, Catholic and Sikh leaders read an interfaith litany composed of King’s writings.
Warnock used the occasion to call people of faith to confront hate when and wherever they encounter it.
“If you burn a Quran today, you’ll burn a cross on my lawn tomorrow,” he said. “Bigotry is bigotry. Terrorism is terrorism.”
From the pulpit, Warnock spoke out against everything from Islamophobia and voter suppression to “America’s prison industrial complex” and young people without the education to properly conjugate a verb.
“The criminal justice system is worse now than it was then,” Warnock said, referring to when King was alive. “There’s something wrong with a nation that has 2 million people in prison.”
Warnock only briefly mentioned the current lot of candidates for president. Event organizers from the Progressive Religious Coalition said they did their part to keep the evening nonpartisan.
The Rev. Mark Deaton, a Presbyterian pastor, said each person participating in the service was asked to speak with the distinctive voice and perspective of his or her faith in an attempt to create an interfaith event that wouldn’t gloss over differences, but celebrate them.
The printed program included this caution: “While the Progressive Religion Coalition is the sponsor of this event, not all participants are members of the Progressive Religious Coalition nor subscribe to the tenets of this organization.”
“What we call you to do is witness to the truth of your own faith,” Deaton said. “It’s in that spirit that we worship tonight.”
Introducing Warnock, the Rev. Sid Gates applauded the pastor’s nationally renowned activism, scholarship and commitment to social justice.
He has “a C.V. as thick as the New York phone book,” joked Gates, a Presbyterian minister and a founder of the Progressive Religious Coalition.
Warnock accepted the senior pastorate at Ebenezer at age 35 in 2005, making him the youngest person to do so.
When he took the pulpit at Reid, Warnock began by applauding the Davidson and Augusta chorales, which performed along with the ensemble Trio Intermezzo, and received standing ovations throughout the evening.
After reading from the New Testament book of Hebrews, Warnock said that, if he could, he’d nominate King for inclusion among the great leaders and saints in the “hall of faith.”
“I know he won the Nobel Peace Prize, but more importantly, he kept his eye on the prize,” he said. “By faith, he left the comfort of the pulpit and made the whole world his parish.”
At the age of 39, King died with unfinished business.
“America is like Franz Schubert’s unfinished symphony,” Warnock said. “America is a beautiful, unfinished symphony. Let’s keep singing the song. Let’s keep playing the music until we finish the symphony.”