Filed under: Bible, Christianity, freedom, God, Grace, Jesus, Martin Luther King Jr., Protest, Religion, Sermon, Spirituality
Monday will be Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It is a national holiday and many of us will take the day off from work. Some of us will observe it by going to events commemorating King’s legacy while others of us will spend the day shopping and taking the opportunity to catch up on much needed rest and work. Invariably we will hear at some point during this long weekend the clip of Martin Luther King Jr. standing 6 miles away and speaking to the crowd in what has been called the “I Have a Dream.” Speech. This speech was a part of a larger protest called the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.”
Mark Twain once called a classic a book that no one reads and too often Martin Luther King Jr. has become a classic. King is mythologized to fit particular party or candidate’s agendas for superficial equality while glossing over his much more difficult stances. These are some stances that are to some extent still unrealized. They include efforts like the radical redistribution of wealth, minimum wage increases, opposition to the war in Vietnam, speaking out against nuclear weapons, his own criticism of the Civil rights act of 1964, equal rights in housing, massive federal programs to train and place all unemployed workers in meaningful jobs with decent pay, his support of striking union workers for fair wages and benefits and an attempt to broaden the Fair Labor Act. This is not even to mention that toward the end of his life he was beginning to sound more understanding of the rhetoric and actions of Malcolm X and Stokley Carmichael and had become more disillusioned with the white liberal’s long-term support for African American civil rights.
In our attempt to boil down history to an easily accessible teaching moment sometimes we turn events and speeches like the one King participated in into our own Disney adaptation or Dr. Phil self help sound bite. Yet, this reduction is not useful, nor respectful to the thoughtful message that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. constructed and went into his broader support of civil and human rights.
While it is a long time since I have been a pacifist and completely support the underpinnings of a Ghandian non-violent resistant movement as the most effective political means for moving an unjust and entrenched political power structure. I must admit that I admire and support organizations that wish to move society in a more just direction through massive peaceful resistance. Although, there are minor points where I differ with the beliefs of Martin Luther King Jr. I believe that more than any other practical theologian in the 20th Century his thought and action has had a deep and enduring impact upon my own beliefs. I would like to share why he is so important to my faith and ministry.
First, King reminds me that we are no longer afforded the luxury in the 21st century to be isolationists. King believed strongly in the interdependence of all humanity. In a world that knows that our choices effect global warming for the rest of the planet and that nuclear weapon’s proliferation and wars affect millions we cannot pretend to be alone. Listen to the essential words from this prophet:
“…all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied to a single garment of destiny.”
“…whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly…I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way the world is made. No individual nation can stand out boasting of being independent.”
“God is not interested merely in the freedom of black men, and brown men, and yellow men: God is interested in the freedom of the whole human race.”
Second, it has been deeply important to my faith that King stresses that there is the possibility that forgiveness and love can transform our enemies and us. What a radical Christian claim, that love can overcome even the most desperate oppression and sin to bring about transformation and reconciliation. Listen to one of Kings most famous passage from his Christmas Sermon on Peace:
Somehow we must be able to stand up before our most bitter opponents and say: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws and abide by the unjust system, because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good, and so throw us in jail and we will still love you Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and , as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half-dead as you beat us, and we will still love you. Send your propaganda agents around the country, and make it appear that we are not fit, culturally and otherwise, for integration, and we’ll still love you. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”
Finally, I have found something that I was completely cynical about when I first heard it in the works of MLK. It is that the trajectory of history bends toward justice. Or as he would say that the method of nonviolent resistance is based upon the conviction that the “universe is on the side of justice.” King is no naïve utopian. His confidence is supremely in the action of humans in bringing about the culmination of history’s goal, which is justice and peace. He says in his address before the National Press Club:
“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable…Even a superficial look at history reveals that no social advance rolls in on the wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of dedicated individuals. Without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of irrational emotionalism and social stagnation.”
So, there is still a challenge well into the 21st century by the inspiring message of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. We must continue to believe in the dream of a nation whose citizens of Anacostia have the same rights and opportunities for freedom and justice as the people of the Palisades. Plus, we are reminded of the challenge and promise of our interconnectedness, the need for the belief that love can transform our enemies and us and that our hope lies in the belief that history will bend toward justice and freedom with our participation. We are reminded that faith takes a lot of action on our part.
photo by Grundlepuck
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