Saturday, January 17, 2015

WWKD? What would King do?

How terrible it will be for you! You build monuments for the prophets, and it was your ancestors who killed them! Luke 11:47

On this day honoring Rev Dr Martin Luther King, one of America’s great prophets, I think of this quotation from Jesus which we recently pondered in our neighborhood Bible study. Invited to dine with the religious elite, Jesus challenged the hypocrisy of those who liked to quote the prophets but lived in complicity with the Roman empire. Today many religious leaders and politicians like to memorialize King with platitudes about the American dream but carefully avoid mentioning the “radical revolution of values” which Rev King advocated.
Jesus’ quote is also apt because many (including Martin Luther King’s family) believe that King was assassinated with the complicity from the US government because of his views on Vietnam and economic justice.
So on this special day I’d like to honor those I feel are truly living in the spirit of MLK.

 Those who are advocating for police oversight. In his sermon at Riverside Church (1968), King made himself very unpopular in government circles with this statement: “I realized I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today - my own government.” Those in power don’t like to be reminded how state power is being abused by the police and the military. For this reason, I’d like to lift up local efforts to provide oversight for the police in Pasadena and other parts of the country. Here in Pasadena Kris Ockhauser, Michelle White and others have started the Coalition for Increased Civilian Oversight of Pasadena Police (CICOPP).  which is advocating for an independent “Police Auditor” to investigate charges of police misconduct and report directly to the City Council. The Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, a coalition of black pastors (including my wife Jill, who is neither a pastor nor black!), has joined the ACLU, NAACP and others calling for the full disclosure of an independent report about the police killing of Kendrec McDade, an unarmed 19-year-old African American. (The Pasadena Police Union is fiercely fighting to prevent this report from being made public and is doing its utmost to influence religious leaders.) Jill will be speaking about the need for police oversight at the IMA Martin Luther King event on Sunday. King would be pleased: he was always on the side of those who want accountability for those who wield power!

Those who are advocating for systemic change to end homelessness. Given the obscene disparities of wealth and the history of oppression, King felt that more than charity was needed:  True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” King would be pleased by efforts not simply to alleviate homelessness with shelters and feedings, but to end homelessness through affordable housing and programs like Housing First.  

Those who are working for a living wage. King came to realize that we need to do more than simply provide equal opportunity for all people, we also need to address systemic economic injustice: ”We are on the side of the wealthy and the secure while we create hell for the poor.” Here in Pasadena, Francisco Garcia and others are leading a coalition to bring a living wage ordinance, similar to the one that Mayor Garcetti is proposing for Los Angeles. This is a small, but much needed step towards alleviating poverty.

Those who are opposing militarism. King realized that we couldn’t end poverty as long as half of our taxes went to support war: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” I especially want to lift up Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace which was founded after 9/11 and works tirelessly to end war and torture, and has as its slogan: "Religious Communities Must Stopping Blessing War and Violence." One of the founders of our organization was Rev James Lawson, who helped teach Dr. King the nonviolent methods of Gandhi.

The phrase "What would Jesus do?" (often abbreviated to WWJD) became popular in the United States in the 1990s as a personal motto for adherents of Evangelical Christianity. For Christians who care about the Prince of Peace, I’d like to suggest “WWKD?” (“What would King Do?”) as a motto for those seeking to live in the spirit of Dr. King. For example would Martin Luther King be pleased by the presence of the military bands and units in a parade supposedly honoring him? This is what happens every year in Los Angeles, and probably other parts of the US as well.  (See King’s radical message of peace and justice has been watered down, whitewashed and “neutered” (a word used by Randy Christopher, Director of Pasadena’s Pace and Justice Academy). I am grateful for those who truly understand the spirit of King and speak out prophetically, as did several teenagers at the Martin Luther King event in Pasadena two years ago. At that time, I wrote the following blog entry:
Madeline Cameron, a 16-year-old high school student from the Pasadena Peace and Justice Academy…spoke about Martin Luther King's commitment to peace, his courage in speaking out against the Vietnam war, and how we have been embroiled in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have cost countless lives and taken money away from needed social programs. She also brought up the infamous wall separating the United States and Mexico, and how US economic policies have left Mexican farmers destitute and forced many to come here to earn a liveliness. She spoke with great feeling of the hundreds who have died trying to cross the border to find work in the United States.
She spoke from the heart, and with real knowledge, about issues that Dr King would cared deeply about.
"She truly understands Dr. King," I thought, my eyes brimming with tears.
I am pleased that I now teach “Faith Studies” at the Peace and Justice Academy, a school that seeks to embody the spirit of King, Gandhi and Jesus. What a blessing it is to share the radical gospel of King and Jesus with the rising generation!

PS All of the quotes in red from Dr. King were read to my middle school class at the Peace and Justice Academy. After we read these quotes aloud, a twelve-year-old said, "Is that why they killed him?" It was clear to him that challenging the war system in America could get you killed!

No comments:

Post a Comment