Martin Luther King Jr.
This semester I’m teaching a course called “Faith and Politics” at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. It’s been a fascinating class for me, and I’m blessed to have very bright students who are required to volunteer for an actual political campaign and keep a journal of their experience.
Their final assignment is to write a paper proposing strategies for healing our divided nation. Our assumption is that all of the major faith traditions have important resources to bring to conflict transformation and reconciling opponents.
There are a few lessons from my class that might be useful for politicians and for the entire nation as we move toward the election.
I believe pulpits are supposed to change communities and nations — and history. They are supposed to raise up preachers and their congregations to stand and speak and act for biblical justice. I have been very blessed on this tour for my new book, America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America, by preaching and being in many of those pulpits that are changing things yet again.
Although King should rightly be lifted up as a hero of nonviolence and deeply Christian minister, we need to be reminded of King's radical legacy. King harshly criticized white people who failed to support black leadership. And particuarly toward the end of his life, King began to speak out about economic injustice and militarism, decrying the ills of capitalism and the Vietnam War.
As you remember today a leader who was murdered for his political beliefs, take a moment to reflect on these nine quotes:
We live in a culture that not only glorifies violence, but often celebrates its use against the “enemy" as the truest form of heroism and bravery. While I won’t get into the debate of whether violence is ever justified to preserve life (a much bigger conversation extending far beyond an 700-word post), I will say I’m deeply troubled by our assumption that violence is the only way to respond to a real or perceived threat.
Today’s radical black Christians may not line up with our nation’s romanticized image of Martin Luther King Jr.
In an Op-Ed over at NBCBLK, Brooke Obie discusses how many of the radical leaders at the forefront of the Black Lives Matter movement draw on deep Christian wells to inspire their activism, but express that faith very differently than the old heroes of the 1960s.
State Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Ariz., wins the top prize for this year’s silliest religious idea so far.
While debating a proposed law that would permit people to carry concealed weapons in public buildings, Allen said, “Probably we should be debating a bill requiring every American to attend a church of their choice on Sunday to see if we can get back to having a moral rebirth.”
Although the senator said it was a “flippant” suggestion, she remained unapologetic for her comments on “the moral erosion of the soul of America.”
“I do know the voice of God.”
That’s what David Oyelowo, the actor who beautifully portrays Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the new film Selma, told me last night. It’s that voice, he said, that called him to play the role.
I was at the December preview of Selma in Washington, D.C., and then took my family to see it at an early showing on Christmas day. I sometimes respond emotionally to films, but Selma made we weep. It also made me grateful that for the first time in 50 years, a big studio had finally made a film about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the people in the movement around him in Selma. I believe this movie, unlike most others, could actually change the nation’s conversation about race and reconciliation at a crucial time, perhaps even providentially.
On the premiere night, I met David Oyelowo, who spoke publically after the film about his faith. I don’t hear that kind of talk very much in D.C., but David was open and forthright, saying that playing the great Christian leader became part of his personal calling as a Christian.
In our conversation afterward, I asked David what he meant by those words. His answer prompted me to ask for an interview with him before the film, which debuts this weekend, came out. He and I talked last night (listen to the full interview below).
The shooting of Michael Brown and the failure of a grand jury to indict the shooter, Darren Wilson, are symptoms of a wider malaise.
It is part of a deep-seated illness that infects our body politic: racism.
The sad reality is that so many people believe we live in a post-racial society because we have a black president. We cannot address the issue, challenge ourselves and transform our societies without a prophetic voice. Ferguson is the space where I see that voice re-emerging into America’s consciousness.
Racism is not just about individual acts. It is about a system that allows unarmed black boys to be shot at a rate 20 times that of white boys; it allows a prosecutor to deliver a speech as a defense attorney for the accused after he fails to get an indictment. It is a system that has a black president telling people to calm down as the police, in military gear, attack them.
It may be the most famous speech of the 20th century.
Millions of American schoolchildren who never experienced Jim Crow or whites-only water fountains know the phrase “I have a dream.”
And many American adults can recite from memory certain phrases: the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s use of the prophet Amos’ vision of justice rolling down “like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream,” or the line about children being judged not by “the color of their skin but the content of their character.”
To many in this country, “I have a dream” has a place of honor next to the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg Address. It celebrates the lofty ideals of freedom.
But scholars say it would be a mistake to celebrate the speech without also acknowledging its profound critique of American values.
Don Cash had graduated from high school in June 1963 and decided on the spur of the moment to join the March on Washington when he finished his work shift at a nearby warehouse. The Baptist layman is the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union’s Minority Coalition and a board member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the NAACP.
“I think we got a long ways to go but I do think that there’s been a lot of changes. I don’t think you’ll ever see what Martin Luther King dreamed in reality, in total. I think we’ll always have to strive for perfection. The dream that he had is a perfect world and I think that in order to be perfect, you have to continue to work at it.”
The King Center is urging communities around the world to participate in a bell-ringing ceremony next month to help commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, “I Have a Dream” speech.
King Center officials say they have reached out to all 50 governors and to cities across the globe asking them to participate in the bell ringing at 3 p.m. ET on Aug. 28, or at 3 p.m. in their respective time zones.
“My father concluded his great speech with a call to ‘let freedom ring,’ and that is a challenge we will meet with a magnificent display of brotherhood and sisterhood in symbolic bell-ringing at places of worship, schools and other venues where bells are available from coast to coast and from continent to continent,” said Bernice King, King’s daughter and CEO of the King Center.
The Rev. Will D. Campbell, a Baptist minister and early white civil rights activist, as well as best-selling writer and folksy raconteur, died Monday in Nashville, Tenn. He was 88.
With a fiercely independent streak and sometimes prickly personality, Campbell used his powerful way with words to explore American racism, especially the contradiction inherent in Christian support for segregation across the South.
And he had his own contradictions, as well. A Southern Baptist who drank moonshine with the Catholic nuns he counted as his friends, Campbell was an equal-opportunity critic, castigating liberals as well as conservatives in his writing and preaching and storytelling.
On March 31, 1968, a few short days before his assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., preached at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
He spoke a phrase he had used on a number of occasions and which by now, 45 years later, has gained a hard proverbial ring: "Eleven o'clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of America."
The situation he described has stubbornly resisted any real movement, but the recent emergence of a radical theology dealing with violence itself is promising a crack in the walls that divide.
Black theologians such as James Cone and Kelly Brown Douglas have recognized the work of the theoretical anthropologist, René Girard. They consider it one of the few frameworks able to illuminate the nature of the violence suffered by the African-American community.
What do you say in the face of evil?
The stories from Monday’s attacks at the Boston Marathon are heartbreaking, gut-wrenching. One in particular stands out to me. A woman was waiting for her husband to cross the finish line when the bombs exploded. For three hours she searched frantically for him, not knowing if he was alive or dead, not knowing if he was frantic and looking for her. Her voice cracked and tears flowed with the raw memory as she told of the moment when she and her husband embraced.
Moments like this, even when they end happily, remind us of our vulnerability. As hard as we try to protect ourselves with heightened security measures, we know that complete invulnerability is impossible. I am vulnerable. My wife is vulnerable. My children are vulnerable. We cannot escape it.
A few hours after the bombing, President Barack Obama addressed our natural desire to carry out justice after these events.
[M]ake no mistake; we will get to the bottom of this. We will find out who did this, we will find out why they did this. Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups, will feel the full weight of justice.
Like the president, I want to take action against evil and I want to know I am secure. I hate admitting that I’m vulnerable. But the president’s words didn’t reassure me. They made me feel more vulnerable because the phrase “full weight of justice” is always a veiled call to violence.
Fifty years after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. challenged white church leaders to confront racism, an ecumenical network has responded to his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”
“We proclaim that, while our context today is different, the call is the same as in 1963 — for followers of Christ to stand together, to work together, and to struggle together for justice,” declared Christian Churches Together in the USA in a 20-page document.
The statement, which is linked to an April 14-15 ecumenical gathering in Birmingham, Ala., includes confessions from church bodies about their silence and slow pace in addressing racial injustice.
“The church must lead rather than follow in the march toward justice,” it says.