Many of you know that I consider Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King as one of the greatest American leaders and the best argument for the existence of a biblical prophet in our lifetime. Every year we celebrate his life and legacy, and sadly every year we seem to find even more urgency to re-examine his life and example. There are many qualities that Dr. King had that are so lacking today among the leadership of both parties. One of the key qualities of Dr. King that is most desperately needed now is leadership. Dr. King knew what it meant to be a leader, and it wasn’t just walking at the front of marches. He operated from a moral foundation that was unshakable and ultimately that moral compass led him to expand his crusade to fight the evils of “Racism, Militarism and Poverty”. His insistence on fighting for social justice resulted in his being isolated and attacked, even from other civil rights leaders.
Dr. King was very unpopular at the end of his life. Popularity is not the companion of true leaders. Of course, the ingrained racist nature of American society hated him. His constant prophetic denouncements of police brutality directed at African-Americans, his condemnation of attempts to take away their rights to vote and the refusal to accept anything but full realization of the American promise was received as well as the prophesies of Isiah. However, it was the rejection by his allies in the civil rights movement that was most disappointing. Other leaders wanted to compromise with evil – they wanted to turn a blind eye to the unjust war in Viet Nam and the debilitating effects of poverty affecting both black and white American. They argued political expediency. They felt that to get what they wanted, they needed to ignore the system that was to ultimately poison American society. He saw the system that was increasingly consolidating wealth and power to a tiny class of Americans and denounced income inequality. He saw the evil and danger of the military-industrial complex that depended on fears to start wars and poor Americans to fight those wars. Because he chose to keep his focus, and because he had the moral courage to lead us into uncomfortable truths, he became isolated. Like every biblical prophet, his devotion to right came at a cost personal popularity, and ultimately his life.
Today, no one could reasonably argue that economic injustice, militarism and racism seem as powerful and destructive as ever. President Nixon designed the “Southern Strategy” of dividing poor whites from poor African-Americans, exploiting racism to promote policies that only impoverish whites as much as minorities. We have progressed from engaging in episodic wars against nation-states to constant war against fear: a war where there is no clear victory but only the constant fear of “terrorists”.
The reason why Democrats are just as complicit in “The Dream” failing is because they are as tied to these evils as Republicans are. Democrats may not rely on the more overt tenets of racism than the unapologetic racism of the Republican Party, but until they abandon militarism and same economic system that is crushing American society then they only continue to participate in promoting injustice. There is no clear moral leader among the Dems – no Bobby Kennedy’s to take up that mantle.
Dr. King truly was a prophet and they are rare gifts from God. Hopefully someone will emerge to led us from this wilderness, because history is not kind to any nation that rejects the message of a prophet.