Monday, January 19, 2009

Martin Luther King Jr: maybe America must move toward a Democratic Socialism

You can’t talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums. You’re really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then. You are messing with captains of industry… Now this means that we are treading in difficult water, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong…with capitalism… There must be a better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a Democratic Socialism.

Martin Luther King Jr was, like Jesus, a Communist.

OK, perhaps that's overstating it. For certain, neither socialism nor communism existed as ideologies in Jesus' time. Many of Jesus' sayings (e.g. sell all you have and give it to the poor) lead me to believe He might have endorsed some or many tenets of socialism had He lived today, but it's impossible to say for sure. Martin may have occasionally dealt with Communist Party members, but in the quotation above, he endorses a "move toward" socialism, not communism.

I think, though, that Martin was thinking less in terms of ideologies than of results. Substantive justice, as opposed to procedural justice. Martin saw how the African-Americans of his day were deprived of economic justice. He knew that this undermined the United States because it prevented the country from being a full community.

Ubuntu: a sub-Saharan African concept meaning, roughly, I am because we are.

Marty had a vision of the beloved community. "We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality." If one is oppressed, we are all diminished. Ergo, we must work together to accomplish that.

What if Marty's vision never comes to pass? There are many structural difficulties. There is a strong pattern of residential segregation by race and class in the US. The US is also a huge nation that is very sparsely populated in spots. In a global context, there are barriers of culture, language and even larger physical distance.

But that's where faith - trusting in what is unseen - comes in. It takes a long, long time to solve social problems. But for God, a thousand years is as an the blink of an eye, and the blink of an eye is as a thousand years. Marty trusted that God was with him. Americans desperately need to learn about community. And American Christians especially must step up to the plate - Christians are only Christians in community. A church that abdicates its responsibility to the community ceases to be a church.

PS: there was a (Roman Catholic) commenter earlier who said the icon of Marty was an insult to his religion. I put Marty's icon up just for you. In fact, every time I make a post that references Marty, I will put that icon up, just because it offends your religion.

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