Meeting Rev. Dr. King For The First Time

This message today is for my Trump supporting friends, or my right-leaning friends who aren’t big fans of Trump but like American conservative policies as currently implemented. I promise it’s not a finger wag or an apologetic to convince you of a different way, at least not from me.
I know you love people, and you wish to show no partiality. You don’t like what you call “identity politics”, and you think that like Justice Roberts said, “the way to stop discriminating on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” You say that racism is a heart issue, not a legislative or other kind of issue, and that only by changing hearts and building relationships can we evolve to be a people that do not show partiality. Once we love each other correctly, the systems will take care of themselves, we’ll tear them down together. You believe that America with its mighty armies and unleashing of free market forces is the greatest country on Earth, and that we’ve primarily been a force for good in the world. Mistakes have been made in the details, but our approach was right, basically every time.
Most importantly for today, you genuinely respect and honor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and his legacy. You want to judge by content of character, not color of skin, like King.
So today, if the above matches your views on race, please honor Dr. King by reading Letter From A Birmingham Jail. If the above matches your views on America, read his Beyond Vietnam speech that made him hated and marginalized by many. And no matter what, you should read the entire text of his whole I Have A Dream speech that has defined his legacy more than any other for who America thinks it is and who it wants to be.
Take in these words from our latter day prophet. Wrestle with them. Rebut if you like; your argument is not with me, but with him. Understand the context in which they were delivered. I Have A Dream was delivered at a march for economic justice. King was in jail to write his letter because he was protesting for better treatment, because he was asserting that Black Lives Matter, too, long before that was a catchphrase. King was well studied in theology and philosophy, and digested and engaged with a rich tradition of ideas that also were critical in our country’s formation.

Instead of quoting King out of context or, as my friend Elizabeth Behrens pointed out in her comments at Be The Bridge Live, focusing on a vision of children of all colors holding hands without being concerned about what happens when the playdate is over, really engage with Rev. Dr. King today.  And once you’ve read who he’s consistently been, in full context, ask yourself what he would have to say about our moment.

Would he agree with our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

How might he suggest we deal with immigration?

What would he have to say about the DOJ report on Ferguson, the shootings of unarmed people, and the uprisings in Ferguson and Baltimore?

What would he have said about Charlottesville?

Would he have stood beside the elder in Washington, singing the peace song between the jeering Hebrew Israelites and the children from the Catholic school who, instead of crucifixes or robes, were draped in the clothing of acolytes of the Church of Trump?

Would he have something to say about the environmental injustice in Flint and other cities?

About global climate issues?

Like any good prophet, I think King has correctives for both sides of the aisle. His convictions do not align neatly with a party affiliation. Let’s listen clearly, and commit that our work to justice will not be restricted to brief prayer and possibly teary reflection without disrupting anything in our segregated, convenient lives. Let’s get into real relationship with people not like us. Let’s believe them when they tell us about their suffering, rather than assuming that, unlike ourselves, they are being influenced by the media and simply need to have their eyes opened so they can rightly know good and evil, like ourselves.

Let’s listen to King this year. Let’s learn from him. And talk to me about it afterward! I’d love to hear how the meeting went.

3 thoughts on “Meeting Rev. Dr. King For The First Time

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this message with me! It has certainly been great food for thought on this MLK, Jr. holiday. I am African American, and I fully believe that racism is a heart issue. However, as a Christian, I believe that man is born into a sinful world, so it is a disgrace to suggest that oppressed people should just wait for their oppressors’ hearts to change in order to have protections from discrimination. King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail provides a wonderful perspective on the need to act and not just wait for change.


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