It is the first week of January and I must admit to you that I have been dreading the coming moments for a few months. Back in early November, I assumed, like many others that these fears — fears about the worth of my black body, the fragility of my immigration status, and the security of the marriages of my gay friends — would all go away by now. I told myself, like many others, that our country was better than this and we would not be so careless, callous, and insensitive to the vulnerable among us that we would lift up someone who had spewed hate and denigrated millions to the highest office of the land.
I was wrong. We did exactly as I thought we wouldn’t do. And now coming in, our fellow citizens have given him a tremendous amount of power and support to do the work of injustice that he has committed to. While it is still very hard to believe this, I find myself most disappointed in fellow Christians — mostly white — putting their own values and interests over the cries and pleas of the least of these, despite our faith mandating we do the opposite. Yet, even as I wrestle with how to speak with those who call themselves Christian and through their voting (or apathy) have not in fact exercised the deep love towards the disenfranchised that is a necessary part of our faith, I do think it is also important to talk directly to those of us who fear this moment in time and have the most to lose. I choose to talk to us because I know too deeply and too personally that what we feel isn’t about politics or secular losses, but instead is a deeply spiritual wound that can only be healed by a balm similar to that of Gilead. It is a thirst that can only be sustained by living water and hunger fed by the bread of life.
The results of the 2016 election have made this a deeply troubling moment. Understanding this moment requires we return to the voices and insights that have gone through similarly troubling moments as a way of knowing how to best proclaim our witness for a time such as this. As the incoming president and his associates prepare to their work of legislating injustice, we, lovers of justice, must be preparing to do our own work — a work rooted in the principles of justice and guided by the practices of faith. To do this work, there is no better modern source to turn to than the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and examine what he might have to say to us as we interpret scripture and examine the call of our faith for our time.
First, I believe Dr. King would remind us that the Bible is on our side. Although the title Reverend is often dropped from his name, Martin Luther King Jr. was a minister first and foremost. His activism was his ministry. His speeches were sermons. His motivation was his faith. When he read scriptures about the Hebrews under Pharoah, the Israelites under Babylon, and Christians under Rome he saw plainly the gospel of liberation. He saw how it was the gospel of liberation that sustained Moses as he confronted Pharoah, saying, “This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews says: Let my people go.” He saw the gospel of liberation in Amos 5 when the prophet said:
because you impose heavy rent on the poor and take levies of grain from them … you afflict the righteous and take bribes … you sit silent during an evil times … I hate your festival and your solemn assemblies, I will not listen to the melodies of your harps, but let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
He saw that the Bible, the same texts used often to justify oppression, is actually meant to liberate and bring justice to those who need it most. For those of us who believe in freedom let us never forget that the Bible is a narrative of oppressed people fighting for freedom. We should always remember that God hears these cries and is raising up a prophet of God’s own choosing to join us in the struggle for freedom.
Secondly, I believe that Dr. King would remind us that membership in the church of Jesus Christ is not about what creeds we subscribe too, but more about how we live our lives. When Jesus was asked by a prospective disciple about membership in his church, he gave him two rules: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and Love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus instructed his disciples that the way to have eternal life was to love God and love people. We should hold ourselves to that same standard today. Maybe Jesus was less concerned about the creeds and more concerned about how his disciples lived their lives because he worried about the values of his church getting lost in the pursuit of power as set by the world.
Dr. King put Jesus’ apprehension this way:
I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches … over and over I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? … In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church … [wondering] is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? (Letter from a Birmingham Jail)
I believe Dr. King would have all of us who are leaders and members of churches really examine if we have done what it necessary to be members in the true ekklesia or church of Jesus Christ, which is the real hope of the world. Perhaps he would have us ask ourselves “Who is our God?” Is our god a God that heals and liberates the world or a god that destroys and reimagines new ways to hate? Perhaps he would have us ask ourselves, “What type of people are we?” Are we people who stand up for what is right, or sit back as brothers and sisters become more vulnerable in this world? Perhaps he would have us ask if our churches can actually join in the saving work of this world even if it required us to give up some of our own relative power. It is my prayer that we actually join the true church of Jesus Christ for the work of God is calling us there.
Lastly, I believe that Dr. King might urge us to present our bodies as a means of laying case before the conscience of the nation. In his Letter from the Birmingham Jail Dr. King describes their protest efforts as just this. I cannot help but think that here Dr. King is channeling the apostle Paul who urges fellow Christians in Romans chapter 12 to offer their bodies as a living sacrifice. Both Dr. King and Apostle Paul show us that with the actions of our body we can worship God deeply and beautifully. I imagine that much bodily protest will be required over the next four years to ensure that justice does actually roll down like waters. I pray that we can use our bodies — black, undocumented, gay, trans, female, disabled, non conforming, white, old, healthy and unhealthy — to worship God and do the work of justice in this world that is required of us.
What might Martin say to us? Perhaps this and much more. What might Jesus say to us? This is certainly more. The real question here however, is what might we say to God? Scripture tells us that in the end, God will separate the sheep from the goats. God will divide us into two groups. One that loved him and fought for the vulnerable of this world and one that despised him precisely because they didn’t. It is my hope and prayer that we might be able to use this moment to look at ourselves and more importantly our God and proudly say that we love you and during a troubling time, we gave all we had so that all our children might live.