Martin Luther King, Jr. and the power of righteous anger

January 18, 2015 at 10:10 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Guest opinion by Kevin C. Peterson

As we celebrate the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday this weekend its difficult to say exactly what he would be angry about. But he’d be angry.

Yes, it’s accurate to describe King as an “apostle of love” because of the gospel of non-violence he preached. King obsessively sought the “beloved community” which was rooted in his commitment to peace and pacifism.

He would say: “Non-violent resistance is not for cowards. It is not a quiet, passive acceptance of evil. One is passive and non-violent physically, but very active spiritually, always seeking ways to persuade the opponent of advantages to the way of love, cooperation, and peace.”

If he were alive today, King would be 86–a lion in winter ignored by most. A national holiday would not exist in his name. The glow from the great marches and the noble pursuits he followed would be faded national memories.

But King would likely still be on fire: He would be disappointed by the state of the nation on race relations. He would oppose our U.S. foreign policy that relies so heavily on drone strikes. And he would decry our country’s uneven economy that has resulted in a class crisis and a bloated oligarchy.

During this weekend’s reflections on King, many will evoke his famous “I Have A Dream” speech where he evoked the grandeur President Lincoln and wrapped the aspiration of the American people around symbols of fairness, opportunities and the hope that the present generation of black Americans would “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Ironically, if he was alive today, King would reject such historical romanticizing on a speech he made decades ago.

He would point to the irony that 50 years after the struggle in Selma for voting rights–where Rev. James Reeb, a white Unitarian minister from Roxbury (Boston, MA), was murdered– there are ongoing battles across the South where voter ID laws and redistricting suppress the electoral power of blacks and the poor.

King would certainly oppose the police murders of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. He would evoke the spirit of “hands up, don’t shoot,” and “I can’t breathe.” But more than this, he would challenge — with exacting moral authority — the remaining vestiges of institutionalized racism that grip our society.

Perhaps King’s most lasting legacy was his criticism of the persistent “evils” which continue to plague American progress.

In 1967 he said: “I am disappointed with our failure to deal… with the triple evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism. We are presently moving down a dead-end road that can lead to national disaster. America has strayed to the far country of racism and militarism.”

For all his preaching about peace, King’s passion–his smoldering anger about injustice–would be as apt today as it was when he walked the streets of America.

Kevin PetersonKevin C. Peterson is founder of the New Democracy Coalition and a senior fellow at the Center for Collaborative Leadership at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s expansive dream

January 18, 2015 at 9:53 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Guest opinion by Rev. Irene Monroe

Martin Luther King’s actual birthday is January 15th, and I believe if MLK were alive today he would be well pleased with Ava DuVernay’s film “Selma.”

Many people working for justice today stand on the shoulders of Martin Luther King Jr and what he achieved in Selma. But I believe King’s vision of justice is often gravely limited and misunderstood. Too many people thought then, and continue to think, that King’s statements regarding justice were only about race and the African-American community. We fail to see how King’s vision of inclusion and community is far wider that we might have once imagined. And his vision always included lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

For King, justice was more than a racial issue, more than a legal or moral issue. Justice was a human issue. And this was evident in King’s passionate concern about a wide range of concerns: “The revolution for human rights is opening up unhealthy areas in American life and permitting a new and wholesome healing to take place,” King once told a racially mixed audience. “Eventually the civil rights movement will have contributed infinitely more to the nation than the eradication of racial injustice.”

Moral leadership played a profound role in the justice work that King did. He argued that true moral leadership must involve itself in the situations of all who are damned, disinherited, disrespected and dispossessed, and moral leadership must be part of a participatory government that is feverishly working to dismantle the existing discriminatory laws that truncate full participation in the fight to advance democracy. And surely part of our job, in keeping King’s dream alive, is to also work to dismantle discriminatory laws and dehumanizing structures that we see young people now taking to the street to protest about across the country.

But if King were among us today, he would say that it is not enough just to look outside ourselves to see the places where society is broken. It is not enough to talk about institutions and workplaces that fracture and separate people based on race, religion, gender and sexual orientation. We must also look at the ways that we ourselves manifest these bigotries, how we are the very ones who uphold and are part of these institutions and workplaces.

Often, we find that these institutions and workplaces are broken, dysfunctional and wounded in the very same ways that we are. The structures we have created are mirrors not of who we want to be, but who we really are.

King would remind each of us that we cannot heal the world if we have not healed ourselves. So perhaps the greatest task, and the most difficult work we must do in light of King’s teachings, is to heal ourselves. And this work must be done in relationship with our justice work in the world.
In “A Farewell to Arms,” Ernest Hemingway said that the world breaks us all, but some of us grow strong in those broken places. King’s teachings invites us to grow strong in our broken places – not only to mend the sin-sick world in which we live in, but also to mend the sin-sick world that we carry around within us. And we can only do that if we are willing to look both inward and outward, healing ourselves of the bigotry, biases and the demons that chip away at our efforts to work toward justice in this world. And our differences have been used to divide us instead of uniting us, so consequently we reside in a society were human brokenness, human isolation and human betrayal are played out every day.

I know that the struggle against racism that King talked about is only legitimate if I am also fighting anti-Semitism, homophobia, sexism, classism – not only out in the world but also in myself. Otherwise, I am creating an ongoing cycle of abuse that goes on unexamined and unaccounted for.
We are foolish if we think we can heal the world and not ourselves. And we delude ourselves if we think that King was only talking about the woundedness of institutional racism, and not the personal wounds we all carry as human beings.

Ironically, our culture of woundedness and victimization has bonded us together in brokenness. The sharing of worlds to depict and honor our pain has created a new language of intimacy, a bonding ritual that allows us to talk across and among our pains. In exploring our common wounds, we sometimes feel more able to find the trust and the understanding that eludes us as “healthy” people.
When we bond in these unhealthy ways we miss opportunities in ourselves for moral leadership, and to work collaboratively with others to effect change in seemingly small ways that eventually lead to big outcomes.

Both Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. were leaders in the Montgomery bus boycott in challenging Alabama’s Jim Crow laws. Both were working together for a desired outcome, and they could not have done it without the other.

Had Rosa Parks not sat down by refusing her seat to a white man that day on the bus in December 1955, King could not have gotten up to promulgate a social gospel, which catapulted the civil rights movement.

Each year, I mark the Martin Luther King holiday by re-examining myself in light of King’s teachings. And in so doing, I try to uncover not only the ways in which the world breaks me, but also how it breaks other people. That keeps us fractured instead of united toward a common goal – a multicultural democracy.

I believe that when we use our gifts in the service of others as King has taught us we then shift the paradigm of personal brokenness to personal healing. We also shift the paradigm of looking for moral leadership from outside of ourselves to within ourselves; thus, realizing we are not only the agents of change in society, but also the moral leaders we have been looking for.

Our job, therefore, in keeping King’s dream alive is to remember that our longing for social justice is also inextricably tied to our longing for personal healing.

Rev. Irene MonroeRev. Irene Monroe is a Ford Fellow and doctoral candidate at Harvard Divinity School. Rev. Monroe can also be heard every Monday on Boston Public Radio, WGBH 89.7. One of Monroe’s outreach ministries is the several religion columns she writes – “The Religion Thang,” for In Newsweekly, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender newspaper that circulates widely throughout New England, “Faith Matters” for The Advocate Magazine, a national gay & lesbian magazine, and “Queer Take,” for The Witness, a progressive Episcopalian journal. Monroe states that her “columns are an interdisciplinary approach drawing on critical race theory, African American , queer and religious studies.

Opinions expressed in the guest editorials are solely those of the author.

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