Today's Topic



Quest for True Americana,
Part III

Part I
Part II

Natalia J. Garland

Print Version

The appeal of Martin Luther King, Jr. reaches far and wide from the intellectual to the school child to the church member. King was born in Georgia, and got a Ph.D. in systemic theology at Boston University. He became America's premier civil rights leader. King had a keen understanding of power: raw political power and spiritual power. He knew that people who had ill-begotten social and political powers would not give up their cruel domains easily. King also had no hesitation to use the word evil. He taught that segregation is an evil. King's leadership and inspiration continue to speak to us today in sermons such as "The American Dream " and "Rediscovering Lost Values."

After September 11th, it was reported that church attendance increased. Many people seemed to be returning to traditional spiritual beliefs for guidance and comfort. Martin Luther King, Jr. seems never to have relinquished his spirituality despite suffering injustices which might have caused others to lose faith. He was a man familiar with the consequences of hatred. King knew the hatred of the Ku Klux Klan and the corrupt segments of the legal system in the South. "I've seen too much hate to want to hate myself; hate is too great a burden to bear."

King had a skillful way of maintaining separation of church and state while at the same time using the one to reinforce the other. He described the Declaration of Independence as having "cosmic proportions." He firmly believed that all people were endowed by God with certain rights, that the American government guaranteed those rights, and that America was chosen by God to be a keeper of those rights for humanity. A state religion, whether Baptist or Islamic or any variation thereof, would probably have been as intolerable as racism for King.

"God's black children are as significant as his white children." For King, this is a self-evident truth of equality as stated in the Declaration of Independence. If King were with us now, would he not also bring the message that Muslim women and girls are equal to Muslim men and boys? Would he not condemn their maltreatment and advocate for them as a helpless minority?

There is an important quotation which I think could be misinterpreted, so I will include it and offer an opinion. "But now more than ever before, America is challenged to realize its dream, for the shape of the world today does not permit our nation the luxury of an anemic democracy. And the price that America must pay for the continued oppression of the Negro and other minority groups is the price of its own destruction. For the hour is late. And the clock of destiny is ticking out. We must act now before it is too late."

The above could not possibly have been a prophesy of September 11th because King was, in fact, successful in procuring significantly greater levels of equality for blacks. The "destruction" of which King spoke had to refer to an internal moral and democratic decay; not to an attack by a foreign group. King had a dream, and that dream continues its process of fulfillment for all minorities.

King was a realist but not a pessimist. He had a spirituality that accepted suffering but with the promise of brighter days ahead. "You see, the founding fathers were really influenced by the Bible. The whole concept of the imago dei, as it is expressed in Latin, the 'image of God,' is the idea that all men have something within them that God injected. Not that they have substantial unity with God, but that every man has a capacity to have fellowship with God. And this gives him an uniqueness, it gives him worth, it gives him dignity. And we must never forget this as a nation: there are no gradations in the image of God."

"We will know one day that God made us to live together as brothers and to respect the dignity and worth of every man." Although King may have warned of destruction, he seems to have been looking forward to brotherhood.

King strongly felt that America had lost some of its fundamental and historic values. "The great problem facing modern man is that, that the means by which we live have outdistanced the spiritual ends for which we live." He felt that Americans had not done this intentionally, but haphazardly in day-to-day practical living. "It wasn't a conscious process. You see, we didn't grow up and say, 'Now, goodbye God, we're going to leave you now.' The materialism in America has been an unconscious thing."

He found it necessary to go back to our founding documents and the eternal spiritual values that gave America its uniqueness. King did not disapprove of wealth or technological advancement, but considered these as harmful when used as "substitutes" for a genuine spiritual life.

"Go out and be assured that God is going to last forever. Storms might come and go. Our great skyscraping buildings will come and go. Our beautiful automobiles will come and go, but God will be here." The survivors of September 11th who can relate to and identify with King's outlook will perhaps rebuild with old values given deeper appreciation. After September 11th, it is as though the entire nation has become a minority: the only modern nation in the world to experience such a massive attack. In our grief, we are equal. (Written 09/16/02: bibliography available.)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

Find More Topics in the Table of Contents

Return to Homepage


Copyright 2002 Natalia J. Garland