Happy Monday, Friends! For many of us today is a break from work and our first break since the winter holidays. Today we recall the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Today we collectively pause to reflect on service and the unending pursuit of justice. Our history books—at least the ones that still include the Civil Rights movement—tell the story of the brave Dr. King standing up to racism and its many collective sins such as segregation and violence against the Black community. But Dr. King was also an ardent opponent of poverty: “The great tragedy is that Christianity failed to see that it had the revolutionary edge. You don't have to go to Karl Marx to learn how to be a revolutionary. I didn't get my inspiration from Karl Marx; I got it from a man named Jesus, a Galilean saint who said he was anointed to heal the brokenhearted. He was anointed to deal with the problems of the poor. And that is where we get our inspiration. And we go out in a day when we have a message for the world, and we can change this world and we can change this nation.”
It has been suggested that it was Dr. King’s opposition to poverty and his support of increasing the economic position of the Black community and not his work against segregation which led to his assassination in 1968. Challenging economic power and the acquisition of money, particularly when one proposes redistributing that wealth to others has often led to the demise of leaders working in empires. Jesus, and the apostles after him, were victims of the economic and imperial order. While Jesus ordered his followers to “Give therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s,” his attitude towards money was one of sacrifice and removing it from public interactions (Matthew 22:21, NRSVue). But Dr. King didn’t stop at just proposing solutions to Black poverty, he was working toward breaking down the racial barriers between poor people.
The owning class in the United States has worked for at least four hundred years to segment the poor by race and ethnicity. Give poor white people just enough additional rights to other groups and convince them that they are somehow superior, and they will consistently vote for you and support your industries even though you fail to support policies and laws which benefit them. After the Civil War, poor illiterate white people could never pass the literacy tests required to vote—a measure to disenfranchise Black people—so laws were passed allowing anyone and their descendants to vote if their grandfather could have voted. This is where the terms “grandfather clause” and “grandfathering” originate. The over policing of Black and Brown people—principally as a function of the failed “War on Drugs”—continue this racist and shameful policy.
Yet Scripture teaches us that “There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28, NRSVue). We should not let race stop us from supporting and lifting each other up. However, we do time and again. We remain divided and allow companies and politicians to dictate our lives because they’ve convinced us that a white real estate developer from Manhattan knows more about us and is more alike us than our neighbors living in the same circumstances as us. Rather than organize for better wages and working conditions, we hold our made up dominance over their heads and talk about how our ancestors worked hard and so did we to get what we have. Why can’t other people? The empire has convinced us to ignore our circumstances for an unattainable dream.
What is your relationship with money? How are your economics tied to your faith?
Let us pray: God, breakdown the divisions which continue to divide your people. Make us aware of the effect of racism in all our lives. Show us how to live with each other in common purpose. Save us from rationalizing away our communities in deference to racist goals. May each of us, through our collective action, live into Dr. King’s dream. We ask this through Jesus. Amen.
Blessings on your weeks, my friends! Please let me know if there is anything I can do.