©Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden departs the White House to travel to Delaware aboard the Marine One helicopter January 13, 2023 from the White House in Washington, United States. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
By Steve Holland
ATLANTA, Ga. (Reuters) – President Joe Biden told Americans to look at the life of Martin Luther King Jr. for lessons on repairing their divisions, extremism and injustice when he became the first incumbent U.S. became President, who spoke at a Sunday service at the Church of Civil Rights Leaders in Atlanta.
To commemorate King’s National Day Monday, Biden, at the invitation of his pastor, Democratic US Senator Raphael Warnock, delivered a sermon at the Ebenezer Baptist Church that focused on a common theme — the country and the world are at war autocratic powers.
“The fact is, I stand here at what I believe is a critical juncture for the United States and the world,” Biden said, calling it a “time of choice.”
“Are we a people who prefer democracy to autocracy,” Biden asked. “We must choose community over chaos. Will we be the people who choose love over hate? These are the questions of our time and the reason I am here.”
King worked for voting rights, Biden said, but “we do well to remember that his mission went deeper. She was spiritual. She was moral.”
King often asked, “Where do we go from here?” said Biden. “My message to the nation on this day is: We are moving forward. We go together.”
Sunday would have been King’s 94th birthday. He was murdered in 1968 at the age of 39 in Memphis, Tennessee by self-confessed segregationist James Earl Ray. King was pastor of the Ebenezer Church from 1960 until his death.
“The battle for the soul of this nation is eternal,” Biden said in his tribute to King. “It’s a constant struggle between hope and fear, kindness and cruelty, justice and injustice.”
Many presidents, including Biden, have visited Ebenezer to honor King, usually during events surrounding his birthday. But Biden was the first to speak from the pulpit at a regular Sunday service.
King “reminds us that we are bound in a single robe of destiny, that this is not about Democrats and Republicans, red, yellow, brown, black and white,” Warnock said earlier Sunday.
On Monday, Biden will meet with civil rights attorney Al Sharpton in Washington and speak to his group, the National Action Network.
Biden is expected to announce his re-election bid in the coming weeks.
Biden was elected in 2020 with strong support from black voters after pledging to do more to expand voting rights and address other racial justice issues. However, some activist groups boycotted his 2022 speech honoring King, disappointed by what they see as a lack of action.