Philadelphia Coalition Speech
June 20, 2004
Philadelphia, Mississippi

Marsha and I thank the Philadelphia Coalition for inviting us and for asking me to offer this welcome.

On behalf of the State and the people of Mississippi I do welcome all who are here for today’s service. I particularly commend the organizers of this service, the Philadelphia Coalition, and everyone who has played a part in this remembrance. It is altogether fitting and proper for us to be here to remember a terribly evil event.

Our state, Mississippi, is a wonderful place; and America is the greatest and best country in the history of the world.

Early on, philosophers such as deTocqueville recognized that America is great because its people are good. America’s greatness results from the people’s goodness; and so shall it ever be. But, lest we forget, evil things can and do happen in good places and great countries and to remember that, openly and honestly, is a deterrent against other, future evils.

When John Winthrop wrote that the new land, to which he was leading his band of devout Christian settlers, should be like the biblical city on a hill, he not only meant it should be a positive, earthly example to all around it; he also meant that the community would and should be totally open to observation and scrutiny; and that all living in the Massachusetts Bay Colony should conduct themselves as if their every deed would be seen by their neighbors, friends and foes, as well as by Almighty God.

Winthrop’s admiration for righteous living was often restated in the 20th century. History taught us that sin and evil must be recognized, confronted and confessed before redemption will be achieved.

We know that when evil is done, it is a complicit sin to ignore it, to pretend it didn’t happen, even if it happened forty years ago. You have to face up to your problems before you can solve them.

Today it is appropriate to remember this horrid event of forty years past. And it is also appropriate to recognize and praise God for all the progress that has occurred since then, especially here in Mississippi. The fact that our state has made as much or more progress in race relations than others is praiseworthy, but it doesn’t mean we should or can forget the reprehensible murders that ultimately led to our being together here today.

The events in the world of 2004 bring home that there is another battle between good and evil going on right now…largely in the Middle East but not exclusively. Other young Americans are risking and sometimes giving their lives for freedom, the same as the three young men we remember here in Philadelphia.

It is my confident prayer that freedom will again triumph in the War on Terror. And it is my fervent hope that all Mississippians…all Americans…all lovers of freedom everywhere will not rest, will not retire, and will not forget that freedom is not free. Freedom is something we must nurture, protect, sometimes fight for, and even die for.

Yes, our state of Mississippi is a wonderful place, and our nation the greatest ever; but we are not perfect. We are sinners, one and all, and evil can still raise its heinous head. But by remembering this forty year old evil, and considering today’s evil of fanatical Islamic terrorism, we recommit ourselves to fighting and defeating the extreme, hateful intolerance in both these evils.

We must stand for the proposition that intolerance is intolerable. And we must not limit ourselves to opposing murder, terrorism and other obvious evils. Let’s commit ourselves to rooting out the small intolerances, too, especially those in our own thoughts, words and deeds.

When we disagree, let it be agreeably. Let’s learn to tolerate opposing views, even as we work to uphold in our own lives the values and standards we claim to cherish. For those of us who are Christians, let’s try to obey Jesus’ commandment that we should love our neighbors even as he loved us. If we do that, evil will find this a very poor place to take root and do its damage.

God Bless You, God Bless our Mississippi and God Bless America.


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