Martin Luther King jr. is one of my heroes. I have no allusions that he was a perfect man. He wasn't. I am sure that if times had been different, instead of being the leader he became, he would have just been an excellent pastor of a local church. But, times were what they were and he was thrust into the spotlight. Once there, he did not compromise his beliefs and did not hesitate to stand against the powers and principalities if the day. Were he still alive, I believe he would be doing the same thing today.
What strikes me is the way that he has been co-opted. Rarely when spoken of in public circles is it even acknowledged that he said and did what he said and did because of what he believed as a man of faith (and a Baptist at that). Remove his faith and you don't have MLK anymore. And then, we forget how radical his commitments were and still are. We can't and don't allow him to be the man he was and still be a national hero because if we did, he would call into question too much of what we have become as Americans.
Yesterday I saw this video put together by an anti-war group that is working against the Afghanistan War. The part that is most surprising though is the clip they share where a spokesperson from the Pentagon claims that if Martin were alive today he would be a supporter of the war in Afghanistan. That is the most ludicrous statement I have ever heard come from the mouth of a government official. Get just a little bit past the "I Have a Dream" sermon and you see that he was very much against, not only the Viet Nam war, but all of the implications of the military industrial complex. When you look at the resources being expended on that war, the Iraq war, and all of our military empire vs. the needs of the poor and marginalized at home, it is crystal clear where MLK would have stood and what he would be preaching today. Consider this quote from a sermon preached at Riverside Church in 1967 - "A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, "This way of settling differences is not just."...A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."
Then I read in this morning's paper that a school board member and radio talk show host at a little station in Colorado named Brett Reese said that Martin Luther King jr. is an "America hating communist" among other things. I have not heard or read the rest of his commentary so I can't speak to the other content or make a comment about Mr. Reese. Still, I have to wonder whether he is the one who is looking at the real Dr. King, at least with regards to where his political stances would be today. Indeed, he would likely seem to be even more leftist now than he was in the 60's and that was exactly the kind of comment that was made about him then. King was a radical and still would be. His words, taken as a whole, would put him clearly at the opposite end of the political and social spectrum than the Tea Party, the Pentagon, or even the current administration. He would be against both wars. He would be for shutting down military bases all over the world and bringing our military home. He would be for single payer healthcare. He would be for putting more money and energy into our inner city schools. He would be for tearing down prisons and building rehab centers. He would continue to call out our nation for its racism. He would be for mercy and justice for undocumented workers. He would be for gun control. He would be for gay marriage. He would be against DADT. The list goes on.
Today is Martin Luther King Day. I invite you to remember the real man as you celebrate it and take seriously what he truly believed.