Friday, April 4, 2008

In memory of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today is the 40th anniversary of the tragic assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Many will remember his stirring words about being "up to the mountaintop" and that someday we would see "the promised land" in the powerful speech he gave to striking sanitation workers the night before he was killed. His central message sometimes gets missed in the video clips and sound bites. King was calling the church to church to preach about and work for economic justice:

We need all of you. And you know what's beautiful tome, is to see all of these ministers of the Gospel. It's a marvelous picture. Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher? Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, and say, "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream." Somehow, the preacher must say with Jesus, "The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to deal with the problems of the poor."

It's all right to talk about "long white robes over yonder," in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here. It's all right to talk about "streets flowing with milk and honey," but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can't eat three square meals a day. It's all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God's preachers must talk about the New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do.

Now the other thing we'll have to do is this: Always anchor our external direct action with the power of economic withdrawal. . .

We don't have to argue with anybody. We don't have to curse and go around acting bad with our words. We don't need any bricks and bottles, we don't need any Molotov cocktails, we just need to go around to these stores, and to these massive industries in our country, and say, "God sent us by here, to say to you that you're not treating his children right. And we've come by here to ask you to make the first item on your agenda fair treatment, where God's children are concerned. Now, if you are not prepared to do that, we do have an agenda that we must follow. And our agenda calls for withdrawing economic support from you."

As Nadia Stefko reminds us, we're not there yet. She writes, "As the nation marks the 40th anniversary of King’s assassination, there’s a lot of mainstream media focusing on the story of the past, the story of what King and the movement he led achieved. While this is undoubtedly important, this report and these workers serve a vital reminder of all that he left for us to do and all that remains to be done. We haven’t achieved King’s vision of economic justice. Forty years later, we’re still out there wandering—hoping we’ll come upon the Promised Land sometime soon."

May this day remind us not only of the great legacy of this man, but of his vision for racial and economic justice and his call to us to join in this work so that all of God's children are treated fairly and with dignity.

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