I started to type this as my pastor preaches about the Rev. Martin Luther King and the Spirit encourages me to say, “Amen!” to what she says. Scripture has been read from Isaiah in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible and is followed by the re-proclamation of that text in the words of John the Baptizer.
As she preaches, I am reminded that Dr. King also re-proclaimed words of wisdom. There are so many dimensions of life that King spoke about that he was right about, but I am going to limit my words to this. What King talked about is the Constitution and Bill of Rights that said “All men are created equal. Endowed by their Creator with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” As we look at those words, we can see — even within them — that they were meant as aspirational — a goal, a fantasy that spoke more than it even knew, a dream bigger than could be imagined by humans of the time.
I say this because not only are all men created equal and endowed by their Creator, but women are created equal in value to men — all of humanity is created by that Creator and thus equal and endowed with dreams and visions. As the church proclaimed at Pentecost, in Acts 2: 17 and 18 (emphasis added)
17 Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
Of course, it “only” took us 150 years or so to understand that women were equal in value among humans, and there is more work to be done so that America knows that in its heart.
King pointed out that he was only asking for rights that the Constitution said he already had: the right to vote, the right to assemble any where people wanted, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. He was asking for the prophecy of the Bill of Rights to become reality.
It’s hard to vote when the vote is prevented by the state you live in. It’s hard to assemble when you can’t sit at a lunch counter. It’s hard to believe in the right to live when you can be hung and people celebrate it. It’s hard to believe in liberty when your people were once slaves or later share croppers or now incarcerated at a higher rate than others. With all those things being true, the pursuit of happiness is nearly impossible.
And that was in 1954, and later in 1964. Since then, the list of people wanting freedom has grown.
Women wanted actual rights like Blacks had achieved then. Yes, they could vote, but they wanted to work and get paid the same amount for doing so. They wanted economic freedom. They wanted representation in Congress and ultimately in the White House. They wanted choice about their own bodies and what happened to them.
Next the Gay Rights movement came along. The gay community wanted to be seen as full human beings, and not be beaten up for existing and loving each other. Later, the AIDS crisis meant the movement could focus on basic survival which could be denied them by politicians. If the movement hadn’t begun prior to this, millions more would have died.
Most recently, the Trans Rights movement has come along. Like previous movements, they want the right to exist, to not be beaten up for simply existing, and all the other rights that Americans have. Like the women’s movement, there are medical rights involved which are unique to their cause.
In each case, the new movement built on the previous movements. In each case, the group wanted to claim the rights they believed the Constitution said they had, or they believed their Creator had endowed them with. Each fought off hate in order to achieve basic rights.
But something strange also happened, which King could not have foreseen: the sentiment that “It’s a [fill in the group] thing. You wouldn’t understand”. This idea may have started with the Black Power movement, which was against King’s philosophy of non-violence. The idea of pride and a form of cultural nationalism that led to violence and isolated movements became a problem, and remains a problem. Among other things, it seems to think that movements can be fads, “the latest liberal thing to think about”. Of course, fads go out of style. When Peace and Love became fashion, they ceased to be causes.
The other problem post-King movements had was either/or thinking. Identity politics meant that if you were “for” one group, you couldn’t be for others. Was a women who liked women to be seen as a lesbian /gay rights movement or as a part of the women’s movement?
King wasn’t about that. He was about progressing all of humanity. He set out to change people at their core — their hearts and minds. Yes, certainly, it was about Black rights, but he wanted Whites to see the humanity in non-Whites. This is not to say that he himself wasn’t affected by the other “isms”, but the movement for non-violent change reached beyond them.
So what does this mean? For me, if we have to choose, it means that issues of racial inequality should be fixed first, and those will always be my first priority.
As a follower of King’s nonviolent movement, though, I have been welcomed to accept the full humanity and equality of Black people — to treasure them and learn from them, just as King said, even if there are experiences I haven’t had that are specific to their lives. In other words, I don’t have to choose between men, women, trans, gay, straight, white, Black, Hispanic, or Asian liberation. It is my job, as a human being, to accept the full humanity of every person, even as I acknowledge the individual faults they may have. They are all endowed by their Creator with the right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
Anything that stands in the way of that is, quite simply, wrong. I will always be an “ally” to Black people, but that is not what King invited me and you to. King invited me and you, I believe, to be a part of The Beloved Community. Blacks are not “other”, gays are not “other”, trans folks are not “other”. We are all part of each other, and part of the same Community of Humanity, loved by our creator.
I will always be appalled by racial hatred, and racial injustice. It’s my job, as a human, and a Christian, to strive for racial love and racial justice… and every other kind of love and justice out there.
That means I want to help restore the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, I want to support the NAACP, I want to advocate for housing rights and against red-lining. I want Black people to have food, and clothing, and freedom to be themselves, to go where they want, to be who they want, and all of that until I die.
But I cannot turn away anyone else’s rights to the same,
Resisting with Peace,