WATERVILLE — How to help create a worldwide community of love during a polarizing time was the focus of a breakfast speech Monday at Spectrum Generations’ Muskie Center to honor the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.

The Rev. David Anderman, retired pastor of the First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Waterville, spoke to about 175 people who turned out for the 31st annual breakfast Monday morning, sponsored by Spectrum and the Waterville Rotary Club.

Anderman, a member of the Maine Conference United Church of Christ Anti-Racism Team, began his talk by saying he assumed those in the audience were there because they want to see King’s legacy “continued and developed for a new day because the social diseases he identified are still with us and the remedies he advocated still relevant.”

“What he said in a sermon many years ago is still true: ‘In our nation today, a mighty struggle is taking place.’ And remember that Dr. King’s legacy is built on the best of the American dream, a vision that is beyond politics.

“The work is enormous,” he said. “It may seem overwhelming because what we are talking about here is a grand vision of how all people can live together in a worldwide community of love, or in Dr. King’s language, a worldwide ‘beloved community.'”

Comparing the struggles during King’s time to those of today, Anderman said the struggle for racial and economic justice and peace continues. King, he said, is perhaps best known for his civil rights work, particularly the integration of African-Americans into the full life of the nation.

“While that concern continues consistent with his dream, we are also concerned about including other groups in the full rights of citizenship: immigrants — whether Mexican or Middle Eastern — refugees, people of other religions.”

Anderman said King worked for fair wages for those “on the lowest rung of the economic ladder.”

King today would be at the forefront of those speaking out about income equality, “about the obscene growth of income for those at the top of the economic ladder and their tax cuts and about the need for a living wage for all people regardless of their color,” according to Anderman.

He said he was old enough to remember when King spoke out against the Vietnam war and was met with outcry. People used condescending words to say he should stick to civil rights, Anderman said.

“How long now has the war against various groups and nations in the Middle East been going on?” he asked. “Shouldn’t we be raising questions about the long-term effectiveness of violent means to solve international problems?”

But even though Anderman said Dr. King’s legacy transcends politics, he pointed specifically to politically charged issues as well. Anderman talked about nightmares and quoted First Lady Michelle Obama saying she could not believe a presidential candidate — referring to President-elect Donald Trump — bragged about sexually assaulting women.

Currently, there is a “lack of Republican party voices for the American values of justice, equality and peace,” he said.

Anderman said honesty requires acknowledging bad dreams such as the “revival of the KKK and similar racist groups under the new name ‘alt right,’ and the appointment of one of their main spokespeople to an influential White House position,” referring to Stephen Bannon, the former executive of the white supremacist news outlet Breitbart who will now be a top strategist for Trump.

In addition, “a man with a racist past is nominated for attorney general, to head the part of the federal government in which civil rights enforcement is lodged,” Anderman said, referring to Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions.

He went on to cite nightmares the country faces, including a proposed director of the federal Environmental Protection Agency “who doesn’t like environmental regulations,” the highest levels of federal government “militarized by the appointment of a disproportionate number of career military people,” and cyber attacks that threaten the democratic process.

“These are only some of the most obvious nightmares right now, the nightmares reported in the news media constantly,” he said.

Anderman recommended ways to find hope and take action by following King’s dream, by deepening one’s faith and loving one’s enemies.

“We are not to think evil of those who oppose us,” Anderman said. “They may be blind or ignorant, but they are not evil. In a polarized and polarizing atmosphere, we need this reminder, this call back to basic values. In two sermons, Dr. King expounded on the need to forgive those who are blind or ignorant of what they are involved in and on the need to love our enemies.”

Anderman’s speech received applause from the group, which included educators; children; city officials; state representatives including Thomas R.W. Longstaff, D-Waterville, and John Pichiotti, R-Fairfield; U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican; and state Rep. Colleen Madigan, D-Waterville and Oakland.

In the past, Gov. Paul LePage has attended the breakfast. Tina Chapman, Waterville Rotary Club president and development and communications director for Kennebec Behavioral Health, said the club was hoping to have both LePage and Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro present, but they were unable to attend Monday.

Third-graders from George J. Mitchell School, accompanied by the school’s part-time librarian Edie Keller, spoke about their hopes and dreams for what they want their world to be like when they get older.

“The whole world will give up slaves and hold hands together and get through life together,” said Caleb Kimball, 9.

Ben Scott, 8, said he hoped “war will stop and peace will fall over the land.”

Sitting in the audience Monday was Betty-Jane Meader, retired Thomas College professor, who said the common thread throughout speeches Monday was about love and acceptance in a tumultuous world. Anderman’s message, she said, was about how critical it is to love and accept others.

“And it’s very difficult in this challenging world today,” she said.

The First Congregational Church Choir, under the direction of Joanna Nelson with pianist Anna Beth Rynders, performed, and Rotarians Jen Olsen and Tammy Rabideau, respectively, offered the invocation and benediction.

The entire audience stood to sing “Let There be Peace on Earth” accompanied by Rynders.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

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Twitter: @AmyCalder17