What Can One Man Do?

January 28, 2014

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a prophet. I believe he spoke with a moral clarity that rivaled the tradition of Old Testament prophets, and with the same effect. We recently celebrated MLK Day and, as I reflected on his life and accomplishments, I had mixed feelings but felt a certain inspiration.

At the end of his life, Dr. King was speaking more often about reforming our society not only in terms of racial justice, but more so in terms of economic justice. “Poverty” he said, “was the most insidious form of violence”. He condemned the moral bankruptcy of “a society that spends more on weapons of mass destruction that on programs of social uplift…” and predicted its demise. He condemned a government which ignored the needs of its citizens to serve the interests of a few.

Like many of the Old Testament prophets, he was killed because of his message. It’s difficult for me to identify who has since taken up his mantle, especially in government. Dr. King was instrumental in passing the Voting Rights Bill, instrumental in inspiring the War on Poverty, and the political end of the Viet Nam War.

By 2014, The Voting Rights Bill was gutted by the U.S. Supreme Court, and laws suppressing voting rights are flourishing. Even more insidious, was that economic injustice – the violence done to the hopes and dreams of the next generation of Americans – is more profound than it is has ever been in our history. Our own children today face the prospect of being the first generation of Americans to grow up in a third world economy for them and their children.

These days it rare to hear anyone in Congress speaking about the problems we face in moral terms and proposing moral solutions. I am not talking about bigots such as those who invoke “God’s Law” as a reason to hate Gays or women. I mean a person who has the courage to speak out in defense of those who cannot do so for themselves.

Such a Congressman might indeed be a “voice in the wilderness”, but as the life and words of Dr. King proved, one man with moral authority can change a society.