Thoughts on Martin Luther King Jr.’s vacation
This Monday, we’ll be honoring the memory of Martin Luther King Jr., which is fair and proper…with one disappointing exception. He will most often be referred to as “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or worse just Martin Luther King Jr. and not the REVEREND Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was, after all, a Baptist pastor. He was a clergyman. C he was a religious man and it was not just an incidental fact of his life, it was a fact that explained his life.
Reverend King believed that religion was a positive force in the world and today that seems like a radical view.
Most of the talks I have given with Father Tom Hartman have been met with polite praise. However, more than occasionally, a belligerent listener would answer us, “How can you give your life to an organized religion when it only divides people and is responsible for all the wars in the world?
We would explain that the Second World War opposed two atheist powers, Russia and Germany. The Iran/Iraq war pitted two groups of Muslims against each other; and Northern Ireland between two groups of Christians who have no problem living together in Ireland proper. These and other wars were fought because of the precepts of greed and conquest and not of faith.
We would then ask our hostile interlocutors to find a soup kitchen that feeds the poor in their communities and ask them how many of them are run by religious institutions and staffed by clerics. The answer is almost all.
We would then ask them to name the people who have helped the world the most over the past hundred years. All their lists were almost the same. All of their lists included Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Bishop Tutu and Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. We would then like to point out that all of these heroes of the spirit who gave their lives to fix our broken world were not only religious but were “professionally”. religious.
We then asked them to make another list of the villains of our time and their lists also told a telling fact. They all included Hitler and Stalin, Mao and his successors who were all virulent atheists.
We would then ask them to compile a local list of criminals and this list included gangs and other types of criminals who were not likely to show up at church.
Finally, we would throw up our arms in amazement and ask them how they could reconcile these facts about the constructive role of religion and religious leaders with their belief that religion is the cause of all the world’s problems. I believe that prejudice against religion is unfortunately the last acceptable prejudice in our culture. It’s not just a lie, but it’s a big lie that the human spiritual journey that produced the commandment to love our neighbors as we love ourselves is somehow responsible for the systemic hatred of our neighbors.
And one more thing. I am deeply disappointed that the “separation wall” between church and state, which is a good thing when it prohibits the creation of a state religion, has been used to try to prevent clerics from express their opinions on various social issues. Finding God doesn’t mean you have to lose your First Amendment rights to advocate for what you think are appropriate social policies. Religious people have different views on many social issues, but they all have the right to speak their minds, even if their minds are informed by the truths of their faith.
Some people disagreed with Reverend King on his view of civil rights. Some thought he was too pacifist and some thought he was too militant, but I don’t recall anyone claiming that King broke through the separation wall using the language of faith to denounce the injustice and racism in America.
And he spoke of his faith to the world which needed his prophetic faith to change its ways.
“If we want to move forward, we must go back and rediscover these precious values - that all reality rests on moral foundations and that all reality has spiritual control.”
“The best of power is love, which implements the demands of justice. The best of justice is love, which corrects all that opposes love.”
The oppressed cannot remain oppressed forever. The desire for freedom ends up manifesting itself. The Bible tells the thrilling story of how Moses stood in the court of Pharaoh centuries ago and cried, “Let my people go.” It’s kind of the opening chapter of a continuing story.
The Very Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, at the age of 39. Thank you, my God, for sharing it with us.
Send ALL QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad via email at [email protected] Rabbi Gellman is the author of several books, including “Religion For Dummies,” co-authored with Fr. Tom Hartmann.