This week as I helped planned Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration services and a day of service at the church I pastor and the seminary that I attend, I found myself immersed in the details.
In those details I rediscovered that Martin Luther King, Jr. was and is a radical man.
The details tell me that during his time, Dr. King was not only radical, but also unpopular. An August 1966 Gallup Poll found that 63 percent of Americans had an unfavorable opinion of King, compared with 33 percent who viewed him favorably.
A close examination of the details of King’s positions reveal his radical unpopularity.
– King believed that America needed a “radical redistribution” of economic and political power.
– King challenged America’s class system in general, and especially its racial caste system.
– King was a strong ally of the nation’s labor union movement.
– King opposed United States militarism and imperialism, especially the country’s misadventure in Vietnam.
If the true details of Dr. King’s positions were known, would he be viewed in a positive light by 94 percent of Americans? Would his name be on schools and on street signs? Would his birthday be a national holiday?
“The true detail is that most of us have been hoodwinked to believe that Dr. King was some saint who made a great speech that moved the white man, to pass a law in ’64 to give those blacks folk who ain’t got a little more.” 3
However, the true detail is this, King and his agenda was much more comprehensive because it included uplifting Whites as well. King realized that White Americans were just as injured by racism and segregation as Black Americans. He understood that racial segregation was devised not only to oppress African Americans, but also to keep working-class Whites from challenging their own oppression, by letting them feel superior to Blacks.
“The Southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow,” King said from the Capitol steps in Montgomery, following the 1965 march from Selma. “And when his wrinkled stomach cried out for the food, that his empty pockets could not provide, he ate Jim Crow, a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than a black man.”
In the details of King’ radicalism I found that he was no original. King; he was radical because Jesus was a radical.
– Jesus was a radical from his humble birth, without the trappings of wealth, power and hegemony.
– Jesus was a radical for healing on the Sabbath.
– Jesus was a radical for praying, and forgiving his enemies.
Yes, the risen Jesus was a radical and King was His disciple.
In reviewing the details of my life, I realize that I am not a radical.
– I have lived a life of comfort powered by the civil rights movement, and paved with the blood of King and others.
– I have shunned difficult conversations, topics and moments so I could remain popular.
– I have not been radical because my Christian walk has been feeble, and my discipleship has been weak.
In his farewell address, President Obama said this about race, “After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America. And such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic. Race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society.”
As an African American Pastor, race will be a major factor in my ministry. Of the various challenges that will face churches in my charge, I can be assured that race will factor in most of them.
As God’s envoy, I must be radical – not because it is the in thing to do, but because as King and many others have found out – the details of true discipleship demand it.