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Call for Response to Racial Injustice

May we be inspired to become better informed, to stand together for justice and to hear God’s voice calling for unity and peace. Blessings, Kathy

In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.  -Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail

I was 23 the first time I heard a white Christian pastor outright declare MLK’s legacy meant nothing because he may have committed adultery. While I thought that was an astonishing claim to make, I have been even more baffled by more recent ways anti-protestors have co-opted MLK to suddenly be on their side. The logic goes, “If MLK were alive today, he would support whatever my political agenda is.” MLK would be in favor of building a wall to keep out the immigrants (never mind the work he did to lift up the poor and oppressed of every nation). MLK would oppose Affirmative Action (never mind his blatant plans to redistribute wealth). MLK would oppose Planned Parenthood (regardless of the fact that he was awarded by them and proudly endorsed them). MLK would be against these “thugs” protesting on the street (never mind he was considered an “agitator,” “communist” and “lawless” in his day).

The truth is, MLK was assassinated by those who opposed his leftist agenda. His agenda was anything but conservative, because to be socially conservative is to maintain the status quo, keep the peace by keeping things the way they are, or trying to go back to the way things “used to be.” MLK was neither a Democrat nor a Republican, for both parties were steeped in racism (we could argue they remain so). It is too convenient to throw out the name of a man who has become an international hero for civil rights and boldly assume what role in history he would take today. He was killed by someone who didn’t like what he was doing: stirring up the people to take to the streets, to boycott and to actively protest discrimination (yes, this included protesting police brutality). In fact, a major point of non-violent protest was to reveal police brutality against innocent citizens and create a public outcry for change. So on what planet would MLK be against people protesting police brutality in 2020?

The argument is made that MLK was against violence, and so he would be against the violence of today’s protests, and therefore he would be against all of the protests because so many of them turn violent. Fact check and find that 93% of Black Lives Matter protests are entirely peaceful. Here’s what he really thought about riots:

…I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention. (read more here).

The argument is made that MLK would have waited for more information, would have had clearer goals, would have set up a figurehead spokesperson such as himself to lead the movement with a moral center. MLK woulda coulda shoulda. But he was assassinated by people who opposed his peaceful protests. He was jailed by people who opposed his peaceful protests. He was largely dismissed as disruptive in his day and he challenged the moderate whites for their complicity in systemic racism.

I am not telling you what MLK would do today because that is an unfair and unreasonable thing to argue. He was not one thing. His entire life’s movement can’t be pinned down in a phrase or one action. Nevertheless, I would certainly recommend anyone who thinks MLK would completely support their agenda today take time to read his letters and sermons, and listen to the voices of his spouse and children, the people closest to him. Look at the work of John Lewis who literally continued MLK’s legacy. Pay attention to the bigger message and methods of his life. Study the man. And if he truly is a hero to you, and you truly believe in civil rights, maybe you will take a little more time to listen to the voice of the people in the streets and not just what your echo chambers are saying.