Rev. Ellen Jennings
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday
Democratic Whip James Clyburn spoke to Congress this week, condemning racist remarks made by Iowa legislator, Steve King:
I rise today to address what I call a tale of two Kings. One, a member of this body, who wondered out loud… why the terms “white nationalism” and “white supremacy” are offensive. I will say to my colleague the terms are offensive because the concepts are evil… today I denounce the words of Rep. Steve King and I do so invoking the words of another king, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, who if [had] been allowed to live, would be celebrating his 9oth birthday tomorrow.
Professor Peniel Joseph at the LBJ School of Public Affairs also refers to “two Kings,” and in this short reflection, I’d like to share his thoughts on them and add a third.
Professor Joseph writes that “celebrations of King in our own time have often split him in two.” There’s the “good” King, who delivered the beautiful and oft quoted “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington and promoted nonviolence as the key to achieving racial justice. This King served as friend and adviser to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and made it possible to pass major civil rights and voting rights legislation. Of course, not everyone liked this King, and many people opposed (and still oppose) such legislation, but today it seems most people, all along the political spectrum, quote and at least give lip service to him.
Then there’s the “bad” King. And friends, while alive, he was mostly the bad King. Criticized by major newspapers, clergy and politicians, Dr. King was denounced for calling the Vietnam War immoral, linking the shortcomings of the Great Society to global war and domestic riots, and calling for an American citizenship expansive enough to guarantee jobs, housing, food, and justice to the poor who live amidst its vast sea of wealth. This King would be appalled at our current politics, dismayed at how far we have not come, and vilified by the current administration. Meaning, he would be seen as dangerous. And most likely silenced, in some way, again.
So, those are Professor Joseph’s “two Kings.” The third King, my addition, is the human King: the father, the husband, the friend, the pastor, the sinner, the one called to action who may just have wanted to stay home and live a normal life. Martin (I use his first name to emphasize his humanness) was not an icon or a symbol or a large rock memorial. He was a man. And, therefore, someone to whom we may not only look “up” but “over.” Meaning, we can look to him not just as a leader but as a brother, as one human to another, as someone to whom we can relate, someone we can emulate.
Because if Martin is human, if he’s “just” a man, then if he could do it, so can we. God knows, so can we. We, who have so much, are so blessed with education, status, material goods and connections; we can continue the work. We can continue the struggle for justice, peace and racial equality. We can advocate for policies that promote human dignity, provide equal and accessible education, build adequate and fair housing, pay people a living wage, and so much more. We can help create the Beloved Community.
If Martin could do it, so can we.
LaTia will now sing, Precious Lord, Take My Hand, Dr. King’s favorite hymn. As she does, I ask that you think of him, his very human being, and the immense personal sacrifices he made on all our behalf.