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What Are You Willing to Suffer for Justice?

January 15th, 2017 Leave a comment Go to comments

I think we should start now preparing for the inevitable. And let us, when that moment comes, go into the situations that we confront with a great deal of dignity, sanity, and reasonableness. – Martin Luther King, Jr., 1956[1]

If Martin Luther King Day has any meaning to us at all beyond a day off, it is usually reflected in a sense of inspiration drawn from a victorious struggle for justice. And so it should be, because Dr. King was a mighty warrior for justice, who shook America’s racist foundations by a martyrdom of agape – self-sacrificing love – and that is how we ought to remember him.

Racial tensions being what they are today, it is hard to remember that we once regarded the Civil Rights Movement as a heroic movement for equality. Americans today do not see themselves as equal. America is marked by bigotry, racism, and xenophobia. The beloved community that King imagined, a community where, in his words, “all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”[2] seems as far away now as it ever has.

Martin Luther King, Jr. believed in the Constitution and the institutions of American government, and he also believed in the essential goodwill of the American people. Today our government at almost every level has been taken over by lawless men who flout our Constitution, our ideals, our principles. Today we see America’s leaders cozy up to foreign enemies and denounce true American patriots. We see them countenance division and exclusion that are foreign to our founding documents, from which we draw our identity as a nation. Goodwill seems to be in short supply in America today.

America has never been perfect, but with two exceptions America’s leaders have always held the welfare of the nation above partisan dogma or personal ambition. The first exception was the Civil War. The second is now, where Republicans in Congress who once vehemently denounced Donald Trump stand in line to lick his boots. And just as in 1861 there were throngs who cheered the ringing of the bells of secession, so now there are at best misguided “patriots” cheering on the destruction of our Republic.

On this commemoration of Martin Luther King’s birthday, I am saddened to suggest that the inspiration we need to draw from his life and the Civil Rights Movement is not a celebration of the triumph of justice but a commitment to continue the struggle for justice no matter the cost. That is the real moral of King’s life, and it is a lesson that all true patriots will need to learn and heed in the days and weeks ahead if we are to survive as a free people. What are you willing to suffer for justice?

[1] Martin Luther King, Jr., “Address to Mia Mass Meeting at Day Street Baptist Church” (Speech, Day Street Baptist Church, Montgomery, Al., April 25, 1956), accessed January 15, 2017, https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/address-mia-mass-meeting-day-street-baptist-church.

[2] Martin Luther King, Jr., “I Have a Dream” (Speech, Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC, August 28, 1963), accessed January 15, 2017, http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm.

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