Wednesday, April 04, 2007
Martin Luther King Jr, assasinated March 4, 1968
Martin Luther King Jr was assasinated this day, 1968. He is only one of three Americans to have a holiday named after them. The other two are Presidents, which indicates that King's achievements in racial reconciliation and nonviolent resistance to evil were truly extraordinary.
Of course, America was not always so hot about King. The FBI started wiretapping his phones in 1961, looking for evidence of Communist influence in the Civil Rights movement. They found none, and accused him of having affairs, instead, a charge which unfortunately seems to be true. And, of course, racists threatened him with violence or death.
The icon, by Robert Lentz, depicts King in jail. The inscription he holds reads, "How long will justice be crucified and truth buried?", which is from his speech in Albany, Georgia in 1961. When he was in one such jail, a number of White clergy wrote to him, counselling moderation and obedience to the law. They called his protest activities "unwise and untimely." To my shame, the list includes the then Episcopal Bishop and Bishop co-adjutor of Alabama, CCJ Carpenter and George Murray, respectively.
Martin Luther King told them very nicely that they had no idea what they were talking about, no idea what African-Americans had been going through. He said that the laws were unjust, and that they needed to be protested. And he warned that if Whites continued to dismiss him and his followers as "rabble-rousers", that African-Americans would take to violence.
As it turns out, America was de-segregated without large-scale violence. But the economic disadvantages that had accrued over decades persisted. King, once again, went to bat for his people. America, once again, resisted. Martin accused Congress of demonstrating "hostility to the poor," of "military funds with alacrity and generosity," but "poverty funds with miserliness." America accused him, incorrectly this time, of Communism.
Today, our priorities are still wrong, with the last Congress passing tax cuts for the rich and cutting social programs. Income and wealth disparities between African-Americans and Whites still exist. Wealth, being income that is accumulated over generations and passed down, is the bigger problem.
Martin's job, then, isn't complete. We draw icons of our saints and put halos around their heads, but they are still human. Ending injustice is not a human task. As James Cone, a renowned Black liberation theologian says,
"King's emphasis on the eschatological hope of freedom as defined by "the coming of the Lord" was not derived from white theologians and philosophers, but from his own religious tradition. These words of faith and hope were derived from the black tradition as defined by our pain and suffering. People who have not lived in the context of hundreds of years of slavery and suffering are not likely to express an eschatological hope of freedom. Hope in God's coming eschatological freedom is always derived from the suffering of people who are seeking to establish freedom on earth but have failed to achieve it. In their failure to establish freedom in their existing present, black people prevented despair from becoming the defining characteristic of their lives by looking forward to God's coming, eschatological freedom."
And so, this post starts with an icon of and a story about Martin. But, it ends with an icon of Jesus Christ, Liberator, by Robert Lentz. Here, Jesus is an African man, dressed in African colors: burnt orange for the Masai, white for the peoples of the Sahara. Human effort is good and I will give my best, but ultimately, I put my trust in Jesus Christ.