The Common Good

Is King's Complete Message Breaking Through?

Sojomail - April 10, 2008


We recoil from nonviolence at our peril. Dr. King rightly saw it at the heart of democracy. Our nation is a great cathedral of votes — votes not only for Congress and for president, but also votes on Supreme Court decisions and on countless juries. Votes govern the boards of great corporations and tiny charities alike. Visibly and invisibly, everything runs on votes. And every vote is nothing but a piece of nonviolence.

- Historian Taylor Branch, in a recent op-ed, "The Last Wish of Martin Luther King." (Source: The New York Times )

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Is King's Complete Message Breaking Through?

When Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, he was trying to move the country to take on the moral issue of economic injustice. And, for the first time in many years, the remembrances of King's death (this one the 40th anniversary) urged the nation to do the same. Usually the nation's anniversary celebrations freeze-frame King as the nation's greatest civil rights leader whose famous "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 was the extent of his message. Later calls for economic justice and the beginnings of a Poor People's Campaign are often ignored, not to mention the controversial connection King made between poverty and war in his opposition to the Vietnam War and his confrontation of the "triplets" of "poverty, racism, and militarism."

But last Friday was different and much more hopeful to our mission here at Sojourners of putting poverty on the agenda of this election year.

Barack Obama, speaking in Fort Wayne, Indiana, made the direct connection between memorializing King and taking up the mantle of his Poor People's campaign, and fighting for the cause of economic justice for those who have been left behind. The New York Times reported that Obama focused on King's presence in Memphis in support of striking sanitation workers and the continuing need for economic justice:

The reason Dr. King was in Memphis the day he was shot, Mr. Obama told the crowd of about 2,000 people, had to do as much with economics, in the form of wages and income, as with race. "It was a struggle for economic justice, for the opportunity that should be available to people of all races and all walks of life," he said. "Because Dr. King understood that the struggle for economic justice and the struggle for racial justice were really one, that each was part of a larger struggle for freedom, for dignity and for humanity."

King's son, Martin Luther King III, has called for a cabinet-level "poverty czar," and, to her credit, Hillary Clinton supported that goal in her speech in Memphis, according to The New York Times:

Mrs. Clinton gave her support to an idea long advocated by the King family, a cabinet position that she said would be "solely and fully devoted to ending poverty as we know it, that will focus the attention of our nation on this issue and never let it go." Mrs. Clinton added: "No more excuses, no more whining, but instead a concerted effort."

John McCain was also in Memphis, speaking at the National Civil Rights Museum (in what was the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was shot.) McCain linked the anniversary to human rights, reports the Associated Press:

McCain said King "was called an agitator, a troublemaker, a malcontent, and a disturber of the peace. These are often the terms applied to men and women of conscience who will not endure cruelty, nor abide injustice. We hear them to this day -- in Darfur, Zimbabwe, Burma, Tibet, Iran and other lands -- directed at every brave soul who dares to disturb the peace of tyrants."

Human rights does continue to be a major issue, and the nation's poverty rate has not significantly improved in the 40 years since King's death. The national minimum wage has actually lost ground, with the 1968 rate worth $9.71 in 2008 dollars compared to $5.85 today. Many voices seem ready now to make that an urgent moral concern and commitment. Let us hope, pray, and work that it may be so.

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What is Justice Revival?

Next week, Sojourners is presenting its first Justice Revival in Columbus, Ohio. Our goal is to unite the church in calling people to follow Jesus and deepen their commitment to social justice. The three-day event will feature speaking by Jim Wallis, Bishop Timothy Clarke, Dr. Gene Harris, Shane Claiborne, and Juanita Irizarry, with worship led by Matt Redman and Raise Mass Choir.

Watch our video to learn more, and register to attend if you're in the Columbus area:

This Justice Revival is co-sponored by Vineyard Columbus, the church of Senior Pastor Rich Nathan, so in preparation, he wrote a congregational letter explaining what Justice Revival is and why his church is hosting it. We've adapted that letter into a series of blog posts. Here's part one and two, and you can check the God's Politics Blog for future entries.

What Doing Justice Means for My Church (Part 1 of 5 by Rich Nathan)

I've always wanted to be part of a church that seeks to be and to do everything the New Testament calls the church to be and to do. I've described this kind of church in the past as a holistic church, or a church that works on all eight cylinders. In other words, it is not enough if my church is known as a great worship center, or a great preaching church. The New Testament demands more.

Is Social Justice a Distraction from the Gospel? (Part 2 of 5 by Rich Nathan)

My church regularly calls people to put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ in order to be born again and enter God's kingdom. But that is not the circumference or totality of the message of the kingdom. The ultimate goal of the kingdom goes beyond the salvation of us as individuals (wonderful as that is) and involves the restoration and renovation of the entire universe.

+ Click here to learn more about Justice Revival


+ See what's new on the blog of Jim Wallis and friends

An Ominous Drama in Zimbabwe (by Nontando Hadebe)

Clearly the government knows it has been defeated – there is no other reason for them to demand recounts and act in the way they are doing. In the past few days the government has bared its teeth by harassing members of opposition parties, arresting election officers, and invading white-owned farms. The government is relying on its military forces to hold on to power because they have been defeated in the votes. It's frightening to watch the extent to which they are willing to go to hold on to power.

Enemies of the State (by Anna Almendrala)

The U.S. government has given the Philippines army $245.6 million for "foreign military financing," "anti-terrorism," and "international military education and training." This is more military funding than any other country in Asia receives. As American taxpayers, we should be outraged that the U.S., through massive military funding, extends carte blanche to a government that cannot control and discipline its own national army – an army that carries out personal vendettas and hit lists en masse. As members of the body of Christ, we should lament when our brothers and sisters are cut down in the mission field – especially when we helped to bankroll it.

Where is Jonas Burgos? (by Anna Almendrala)

Imagine you're eating at a shopping mall food court when you suddenly hear shouting and see a group of uniformed men (neither police nor army) drag a young man from his lunch a few tables away. "I'm just an activist! I haven't done anything wrong!" he shouts as they cuff him and take him to a waiting van outside. What would Christ-followers do? What would you do?

Charlton Heston: Complex Icon (by Gareth Higgins)

Charlton Heston died this weekend at age 84.... His was an ambivalent life – living through 14 presidencies (and personally befriending several of the most recent occupants of the office), supporting civil rights when it was unfashionable, switching his political allegiances, and latterly becoming identified with right-wing causes. Not often a subtle actor (although you could do worse than watch his performance in Orson Welles' Touch of Evil as a tribute), he represented a particular kind of vanishing screen presence who, like John Wayne, represented a vision of American greatness that depended far too much on the suggestion of invulnerability.

A Time for Jubilee (by Elizabeth Palmberg)

The subprime mortgage crisis in the U.S. has raised just outrage at the behavior of predatory lenders. It's wrong to push a mortgage that the lender knows the borrower won't be able to pay back, driving homeowners into foreclosure and bankruptcy. But when poor nations have unpayable debt—often the result of Cold War favors to corrupt dictators—they can't declare bankruptcy.

Video: Jim Wallis and Jimmy Carter

Part 1: Jimmy Carter talks about The Great Awakening.
Watch it.
Part 2: Jim Wallis and Jimmy Carter discuss faith, politics, and race. Watch it.


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