Progress in this world comes from moving ahead, not looking back, the Rev. Raphael Warnock warned a combined congregation of The Temple and Ebenezer Baptist Church at Friday night services Jan. 13.

Delivering the sermon at The Temple on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday weekend for the eighth year, the senior pastor of King’s historic church said, “People of faith above all should be suspicious of any mantra that says, ‘Let us take our country back.’ ”

Photo by Arlene Appelrouth (From left) Rabbis Shmuel Herzfeld, Adam Starr and Uri Topolosky, who once worked together in Riverdale, N.Y., reunite in Selma, Ala., on Friday, Jan. 13, during a civil rights trip for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.

Photo by Arlene Appelrouth
(From left) Rabbis Shmuel Herzfeld, Adam Starr and Uri Topolosky, who once worked together in Riverdale, N.Y., reunite in Selma, Ala., on Friday, Jan. 13, during a civil rights trip for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.

Neither Warnock nor Rabbi Peter Berg mentioned President-elect Donald Trump, due to be inaugurated one week later, but uncertainty about what his administration will do under the motto of “make America great again” was implied throughout the service.

“My friend, I think we’ll be working a little harder in the years to come,” Rabbi Berg said after listing the many social justice issues that have brought him and Warnock together.

The service, which Temple President Lauren Grien said may have been the best version yet of the highly anticipated annual event, took place the night before Trump criticized Rep. John Lewis, a colleague of King’s, and his 5th District, which includes The Temple and Ebenezer Baptist.

But Warnock found humor in the political moment. He said he’ll be happy to see President Barack Obama leave the White House “because that’s one less brother I’ll have to worry about suffering racial profiling while living in public housing.”

For the rest of us, Warnock said people of faith, whether walking into the wilderness with Moses or confronting political vitriol in America today, must resist the desire to go back and accept a flawed world — a place with “no freedom, but fried chicken; no rights, but rice.”

“America, has G-d brought us this far to leave us?” Warnock asked. “The question is not ‘Is G-d with us?’ The question is ‘Are we with G-d?’ ”

Pharaoh is not a person, he said, but the comfort we have with the bad things we know. So instead of persuading Pharaoh to let the people go, “often you have to convince the people to let Pharaoh go.”

Warnock questioned the “againness” of making America great again, wondering exactly how far back we’re meant to go in a nation only half a century removed from King’s civil rights marches alongside Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.

Like those greats of the civil rights movement, people today must stand tall and pray with their feet, Warnock said. “Every now and then, glance in the rearview mirror, but don’t stare in the rearview mirror.”

Rabbi David Spinrad, who like Warnock spoke about lessons from Exodus, listed five steps to redemption: Do not run away from your fear; stand strong; see the situation; be calm; and move forward to do whatever the next moment requires.

“March on,” Warnock said. “We’ll get to the promised land.”