By Eric Paul
All quotes are the words of MLK from a variety of letters and speeches:
In 1989, there were 13 non-violent revolutions in 13 different countries. All but one was successful. (Walter Wink: The Third Way). In the 1950s and 60s, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led such a revolution. His words and actions challenged the social systems of his day. He was jailed, beaten, and killed in response to a revolution of values against the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism. His words and witness continue to challenge us today.
Many of us recognize partially the contribution King has played in our nations history and in the social movement that began to combat the evil of racism. He became one of the earliest Freedom Riders in Birmingham, organized non-violent protests aimed at overcoming the dominant powers, and worked endlessly throughout the courts and from the pulpit to express the way of Jesus as the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest.
He was at the forefront of the desegregation laws in Birmingham, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1968, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (which came as a result of the Selma to Montgomery March). He did this constantly under a barrage of threats on his life and criticisms from the white churches that he characterized as the archdefender of the status quo.
He longed for the days that had been characterized by the early church: a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Yet, he loved the church, for there is no disappointment without great love. King recognized the Church as a colony of Heaven, called to obey God rather than man. His message of lov e across racial lines is still a message in need of adherence.
One can hardly fully appreciate the role MLK played in the moral growth of our nation. But I also believe we have consigned him to a domesticated historical icon rather than a true revolutionary figure. Our political leaders call on his name but only as political talking points. They forget that as much as King combated the evils of racism he saw the economic and political system driving blacks into a state of poverty.
Now, we recognize that it is not limited to blacks but also to many immigrants that now call this nation their own. King recognized the increasing immoral disparity between the rich and poor and commented: we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When profit, property, and machines become more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
In this month alone, the United States government will have spent 9 billion dollars on the war in Iraq. In the time of Martin Luther King, another controversial war was being played. In response to the war in Vietnam, King prophesied, A nation that continues, year after year, to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” Since the war began, the United States government has spent over 500 billion dollars. Comparatively, this is enough money to cover universal health care, universal education, and affordable housing. (All figures are from the Congressional Budget Office, cbo.org).
Last week, we remembered the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who died too early. May we do more than just remember. May we honor him by using the same methods of non-violent resistance in the face of the dominant powers. May we recognize, as King recognized, that Christianity is a calling that takes [us] beyond national allegiances and that we still have a choice today; non-violent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.
Martin Luther King, Jr. stands as a man who had a prophetic imagination to constantly re-create. We Christians recognize this as the role of the community as children of God. The Kingdom of God is brought by the divine presence rather than coercion or force.
It is in the gentle love in forgiveness or in the defiance of a protest. It is the hope of God found in the person of Jesus and mirrored in the purpose of the church. It is a particular Kingdom here and now; it is Christ among us as one of us: the Hispanic struggling to learn English, the poor unwed mother at Burger King, and the wounded Iraqi soldier. May Gods revolution, seen in the witness of Martin Luther King, Jr., continue to pervade our thoughts and actions.
Eric is currently living in Bourbonnais, IL with his beautiful wife Joy. After a year off from school, he is excited about once again joining the academic community while pursuing a Masters in Divinity. You can find some of his thoughts at www.pruningspears.blogspot.com.