Martin Luther King, Jr: A Lesson in Faith and Citizenship
Martin Luther King, Jr. whom we celebrate today as the leading social activist of the Civil Rights Movement, was also a Baptist Minister who received his Doctorate in Theology from Boston University in 1955 after receiving a Bachelor of Arts from Morehouse College and a Bachelor of Divinity from Crozer Theological Seminary. Why does this matter? I submit to you that it matters because this Nation needs the lesson in faith Dr. King has to teach us as much as his lesson in citizenship we remember on this important holiday.
Dr. King’s Lesson in Faith.
As a Christian, Dr. King understood that Justice is constitutive of the Gospel. In other words, Justice is essential for those who claim to follow Jesus Christ. The understanding of human dignity informing Dr. King’s pursuit of racial justice, his effort to eliminate poverty, and his witness to peace was an awe-inspiring appreciation that we are only fully human when we are persons of compassion for whom justice and love are one.
Racial discrimination, indeed discrimination of any kind, poverty, and violence, have no place in the salvation history in which Dr. King understood himself to participate. The lesson for us is that discrimination, poverty, and violence must have no place today for any person who would claim discipleship in Jesus Christ.
Dr. King’s Lesson in Citizenship.
Dr. King understood that the Establishment Clause of our Constitution requires a healthy separation of church and state, just as our same Constitution requires religious freedom. Today, an appreciation of the wisdom of the Establishment Clause is woefully lacking in political discourse and practice in the United States, particularly because of the influence of Mike Pence and others who have created an extraordinarily disturbing alliance with Donald Trump. This partnership currently finds expression in discrimination in the name of religion, and its related theology of hate, which is fueling attacks on the civil rights of certain persons in our country, notably women, LGBT citizens, religious minorities, and people of color.
The brilliance of Dr. King which we celebrate today, in contrast to the theology of hate influencing our current politics, is the enlightened and liberating integration of Dr. King’s faith into his politics, not the distortion of politics by a presumptive and oppressive faith. This is why when one studies those who joined Dr. King in his movement toward civil rights, his campaign against poverty, and his commitment to peace, one discovers a magnificent array of believers from most Christian denominations and world religions as well as humanists and other non-believers alike. The same is true when one surveys the crowds of people who are celebrating this holiday in 2018. The diversity of persons celebrating the day is remarkable and indicative of the timeless truth of Dr. King’s message. Indeed, it is a message that speaks to the dignity of all persons which is the basis of our cherished values as US citizens – namely that we are an indivisible people, seeking justice, equality, and inclusion for all.
The Communion of Faith and Justice.
I want to conclude this reflection as a candidate for Congress and as an American citizen by affirmatively and unequivocally condemning any practice of religion that is used to harm others, particularly the vulnerable and outcast of one’s country or community. As a Christian, I also want to affirmatively and unequivocally say that I celebrate and admire Dr. King’s liberating integration of his faith and politics. Finally, to those of you who are experiencing the cruelty of the discrimination and theology of hate present in the current administration, and find it difficult to imagine that Christianity might be an instrument for good, I offer you the following thought as corrective to the perversion of religion currently at work by those in power. Jesus did not define himself against others, exercised no coercion toward women or anyone else. He did, however, welcome the stranger (immigration reform). He fed the hungry (a fundamental option for the poor). He gave drink to the thirsty (stewardship of our waters and lands). He clothed the naked (care for the homeless). He cared for the sick (health care), and he did not abandon the imprisoned (prison reform).
Thank you, Dr. King. A grateful Nation celebrates you.
January 15, 2018