True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.
Martin Luther King Jr.
I wonder where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would place his hard and diligent work today? I think about this question every year this month when we stop to honor Dr. King. I think about it every time racism raises its ugly head. I thought of Dr. King daily through the recent Presidential campaign and especially now as we move into the next presidency in this country. Where would the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. place his hard and diligent work today? Here is what I think, in fact, what I believe.
I believe that today Martin Luther King Jr. would be advising us in the work of affirming in real ways that Black Lives Matter. I believe he would be working to end war all over the world. I also believe that he would be protesting on the southern border of this country, right there where President-Elect Trump proposes to build a wall out of the understanding that addressing the immigration issue is a critical part of the struggle for civil and human rights. I believe that he would be leading us to examine how a global economy that serves only the few leads to the unacceptable suffering of the many. And I believe that Dr. King would also be exhorting us to welcome rather than exclude our LGBTQ sisters and brothers.
It was Martin Luther King Jr. who through his life-giving witness like no other held up the clear message that Black Lives Matter. He gave that message the value of non-violence whose heart is love, and the high and non-negotiable expectation that every person should not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. With holy scripture in his hand he taught us of the sacred worth of each person in all the diversity of the beautiful hues that God made us in God’s own image and likeness. He taught us what this means not just as poetic expression but in real life with its racism-caused pain and suffering. He showed us that defending every person’s dignity is not just work. It is a sacred task worth giving our lives for! His work and witness caused a movement that changed hearts and changed the world. His work and witness are ours today as Dr. King continues to advise us through all he taught us.
I believe that if Martin Luther King Jr. were with us today he would be working to end war all over the world. On April 4, 1967, King made his most public and comprehensive statement against the war of that day, the Vietnam War. Addressing a crowd of 3,000 people in New York City’s Riverside Church, King delivered a speech entitled, “Beyond Vietnam.” In his speech King laid out some very concrete steps for ending the war in Vietnam. The spirit of his speech is still relevant today as we consider wars around the world.
In his speech, King challenged people of faith to hold their heads above the assumption that war was necessary and inevitable. And he called people of faith to a true revolution of values that would lay a hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” King challenged the assumptions of his day about the inevitability of war reminding Christians, Muslims, Jews and others seeking peace, that war and its effects of death, homelessness, destroyed families and communities, increased hatred and violence, and physically and emotionally disabled and disfigured soldiers, could not be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. War could not be reconciled with the virtues of wisdom, justice, and love, then, and it cannot be reconciled with these virtues now.
To listen to Dr. King speak about a counter-revolution to this country’s involvement in the War in Vietnam resonates with what you and I are seeing today in the wars in Syria, Yemen, Israel and Palestine, the war against ISIS and wars in too many other places around the world. We must find a better way.
In seeking peace through justice Dr. King stated this eternal truth, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” In the prophetic courage of Dr. King, I believe that communities of faith that do not challenge our nation’s bent towards war as a solution to social conflict will also begin to approach spiritual death. We must find every wise way to oppose and protest war in all its forms. Our lives, and especially the lives of our children, and grandchildren and great grandchildren depend on it.
In the midst of the Vietnam War Martin Luther King Jr. challenged the U.S. government to set a date by which time all foreign troops would be removed from Vietnam in accordance with the 1954 Geneva Agreement. He challenged the U.S. to provide asylum to those who feared for their life under the new Vietnamese regime, to make reparations for the damage we had done in that country, and to provide much needed medical aid to the Vietnamese. In our historic moment and in our involvement in so many wars, we can do no less. And, our churches, synagogues, and mosques must be the places from which comes the clear voice of challenge to war and the places where those afflicted by war can find refuge, sanctuary, until the wars cease.
I also believe that today Martin Luther King Jr. would be working for justice by addressing the immigration issue as an issue of civil and human rights. Though King lived before economic agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Central America Free Trade Agreement, through the wisdom God gave him he could anticipate the injustice these agreements would bring. King saw it through that lens of the hope of a true revolution of values. He stated:
A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on
the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous
indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual
capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in
Asia, Africa, and South America only to take the profits out
with no concern for the social betterment of the countries,
and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance
with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This
is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has
everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is
King could see even in his time, that a global economy that serves only the few leads to the unjust and unacceptable suffering of the many. He clearly believed that persons of faith and good will had to work for economic justice not only out of self-interest but for everyone, especially in behalf of those most affected by economic injustice, among them those whom King described as the humanity that “borders at our doors”.
I had the opportunity once to lead 100 United Methodists on a walk in the desert that traced the steps of immigrants who come across our southern border seeking survival. As we walked in the desert we saw barbed-wire fences strewn with pieces of cloth and shoes; pieces of jean cloth here and there, a piece of a shirt flapping in the hot desert wind, a tennis shoe hanging from its laces. I voiced out loud the question of what this all meant when a volunteer who was helping us traverse the desert explained that they were the signs of persons who had died of exposure in the desert. He said that as persons suffer the extreme heat of the desert without food or water they begin to die, their brains frying, their organs ceasing to function, and they go crazy, stripping their bodies of their clothing and their shoes in their physical and emotional despair.
We saw places where immigrants had rested, and where they had gotten lost and become disoriented. At one place another volunteer told us that at that spot they had found a bible. At another place in the desert they had found a baby carriage. I later met a two-year-old immigrant child in a baby carriage. He and his young parents had crossed the desert, escaping violence and seeking safety like Joseph and Mary with the child, Jesus, had done one day.
We also saw a tree where a young woman in her early 20s, at most, had died in the desert because of the lack of water. Her only crime had been crossing the border in order to survive. The tree had been turned into a memorial in her honor.
We were headed out of the desert when a woman in one of the last vans shouted out to the driver to stop because she thought she had seen a dead body underneath a bush alongside the road. It wasn’t a dead body. It was three young boys, 12, 13 and 14-year-old boys, small for their age, huddled underneath the bush.
We asked them what they were doing there. They told us that they had been brought there by human smugglers who had then abandoned them. They were seeking work to help their families. Our group gave them bags of food and water that we had carried into the desert in case we ran into immigrants. We encouraged them to turn themselves over to the Border Patrol. We offered to call the Border Patrol for them, but they refused. We had made a commitment to the Border Patrol Chief that we would not pick up or transport any immigrants in the desert.
Before we left those boys in the desert we asked them if there was anything we could do to help them. They asked us where San Francisco was. It was where they were headed. Was it close?
I believe Dr. King would have cared for those immigrant boys and sought justice for them. Seeing into the future all the way to our present day, King said of our need to work on the issues of the economic injustice that create the immigration flow we are experiencing today,
If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, strength without sight.
Might we also hope that today Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be on the side of LGBTQ rights and inclusion. Dr. King’s perspective on justice was local and global, and utterly grounded in an understanding of God’s love, divine love that includes all and excludes none. I dare to believe that he would today be advocating for the rights and inclusion of our LGBTQ sisters and brothers based on their humanity, shaped in the very hands of the One God who has created all of us just as we are. I believe he would be exhorting us to consider the content of the character and the faith of the heart of our LGBTQ sisters and brothers above their sexual orientation and calling us to treat them as family, beloved of God and beloved of ours.
On this day Martin our brother takes us by the hand and leads us forth into a revolution of values, a reordering of priorities under which Black Lives Matter, really matter, the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war, economic decisions that will be made so that God’s children are able to all flourish rather than for the lining of the pockets of the few at the expense and suffering of the many, and all are included, valued and loved including our LGBTQ sisters and brothers.
“We can,” we hear Dr. King say. President Barack Obama says this often – “We can. Yes, We Can.” You realize what he is doing. He is picking up the mantel of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a mantel we should all pick up. Dr. King said,
We can transform a pending world into a song of peace,
and the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful
symphony of brotherhood (I believe that today he would also say,
“and of sisterhood”) speeding up the day all over America
and all over the world when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
May we remember the Dream.
Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño