By Dr. J. Alfred Smith Sr. | World Baptist News
Churches and libraries bear his name. He is the only African American and the only American clergyman honored with a national holiday. In many countries around the world, he is reckoned with world heroes like Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela.
Some have discredited him by calling him a communist, detractor and troublemaker. Sophisticated ideological historians deconstruct his story in order to distort the powerful truth of his ministry. Those who pass laws against the teaching of Critical Race Theory are ensuring that present and future generations will not learn, as Professor Cornel West has said, that the universal religious commitments of King the led to the internationalization of American ideals of democracy, freedom and equality.
Those who misrepresent King and Critical Race Theory are illogical and only reveal their fear of him. There is no need to be afraid of this black American preacher who preached non-violence and love. King was a peaceful warrior who radically obeyed Jesus, who taught us to love even our enemies.
“There is no need to be afraid of this black American preacher who preached non-violence and love.”
Forgive us, Lord, our ignorance
Forgive us, Lord, for reducing Martin Luther King to just a civil rights leader. Forgive us, Lord, our ignorance. All many people know about him is that he had a dream. He was more than a dreamer. Forgive us for ignoring your calling as Martin Luther King as a minister bringing good news to a world of bad news.
In accordance with Luke 4:18-19, King—like Jesus—had a deep commitment to the poor, rejected, left-behind, and disrespectful black health care workers in Memphis. He addressed, much to the chagrin of the white power structure, the fundamental constitutionally guaranteed rights of the black people – a fair education, decent housing, jobs that paid decent wages, and equal justice in the courts. Sanitation workers had lost their lives working long hours for starvation wages with dangerous trucks that claimed the lives of several workers.
The workers went on strike with the support of many community members. They carried signs that said, “I AM A MAN! Some of King’s critics misunderstood his identification with the cause of sanitation workers.
Professor Luther D. Ivory states in Towards a Theology of Radical Engagement that King used the teaching of Imago Dei to counter the notion of black inferiority. Everyone, regardless of race, gender, education or economic status, should be valued and treated with respect and dignity. Black people needed this message to overcome the feelings of shame, inferiority and self-hatred caused by the absurdities of racism.
With this understanding, the foundation is built for blacks and whites to live together in the beloved community. Living in Beloved Community calls on blacks and whites to work together to transform existing injustices in institutions and public life.
Forgive us, Lord, for our twisted gospel
Lord, forgive American Christians – black and white – for their middle-class captivity with a distorted view of the gospel. This understanding of the gospel was concerned with life after death and not life after birth, addressing only the right time while occasionally ignoring the wicked. This gospel condemns the personal sins of individuals while ignoring corporate and institutional evils. This gospel refused to oppose chemical and nuclear waste dumps that are built on the outskirts of communities where the poor and politically powerless live.
In his book Walk to freedom, King corrects the distorted view of the gospel by saying, “The gospel deals with the whole man, not only with his soul, but with his body; not only his spiritual well-being, but his material well-being. …Any religion that professes to concern itself with the souls of men and does not care about soul-marking conditions is a spiritually dying religion just waiting for daylight to be buried.
Forgive us, Lord, for our white nationalism
Forgive America, Lord, for its ethnocentrism and white nationalism that justifies its behavior, whether good or bad. American arrogance has been promoted by people who have held the highest leadership positions in the country. America presented itself as being No. 1 among the wealthy nations of the world.
In “A Lament for Humanity” on Human Rights Day 2021, pastor, author and judge Wendell Griffen wrote, “The world’s richest 1% have more than twice as much wealth than 6.9 billion people. Almost half of the world’s 3.4 billion people live on less than $5.50 a day. Each year, 100 million people fall into poverty because they have to pay out of pocket for health care. Currently, 258 million children (one in five) will not be allowed to go to school.
Pastor Griffen adds: “And it has happened that humanity seems to have cursed itself and the world with this greed, this lust for power, this inequality and this bigotry that makes community seem like a world fantasy in the world. instead of a human imperative.”
The inequality is not accidental; it is deliberative, calculated and deliberate.
Forgive us, Lord, for we were warned by King in his last book, Where do we go from here? He writes: “We have inherited a great house, a great house of the world in which we must learn to live together, Blacks and whites, Easterners and Westerners, Gentiles and Jews, Catholics and Protestants, Muslims and Hindus. A family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interests, which, because we can never live apart, must somehow learn to live with each other in peace.
Forgive us, Lord, our violence
Forgive us, Lord, for our worship of guns. There are more guns in America than people. Our money says “In God We Trust”, but there are 121 guns for every 100 people. And 75% of homicides are firearm related. America leads all other nations in gun deaths. Our children are afraid of being killed at school by a student. Black Christians in churches and Jews in synagogues were killed while worshiping. Our shopping centers have experienced massacres.
On January 6, 2021, the United States Capitol was invaded by people with guns trying to stop the Electoral College vote count. Reports indicate that the life of the Vice President and Speaker of the House was marked for death.
Guns are used to settle disputes. The United States is the number one arms seller to countries in the world. Forgive us, Lord, for turning a deaf ear to the apostle of non-violence. He preached against what he called the triplets of evil: war, poverty and racism. It was he who said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.” Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.
A prayer for hope
May those of us who have become discouraged because racism seems to be on the rise find hope again. May those of us who have become discouraged because white supremacy and white nationalism are boldly entrenching themselves in state and national governments find hope. May those of us who became discouraged because the voting rights that people shed their blood for so we could vote are now being stolen, endangering democracy, find hope again.
Forgive us, Lord, if we forget how Martin Luther King told us in his very last speech that we would face difficult days. Those days are here.
Two months before his assassination on April 4, 1968, he spoke powerful words of hope. We must not forget them. He said, “We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.”
Yes, the immediate future may not look promising. Negative news about climate change can haunt us. Young university graduates are uncertain about career prospects. The COVID-19 virus and its mutations trouble us. These finite disappointments multiply geometrically, but the infinite hope must not be lost.
I am not talking about a blind hope but an infinite hope that leads to the belief that if we do our part, our path-making God, who has brought us through the Middle Passage, the horror of runaway slaves pursued by bloodhounds and beaten with multiple blows if taken, the sexual abuse of the slave woman bearing a mulatto child for the slave owner, and the god of liberation who helped us survive Ku Klux Klan terrorism and inspired our preachers to preach after their churches have been burnt down and to build them back greater – that this God will inspire us and create within us the power to keep the dream alive.
Not the God of the slave master preacher who told us not to steal the master’s chickens when our babies were crying from hunger, but the God of infinite hope, the God who creates Ex nihilo, which comes out of nowhere. The waymaker God inspires us and creates within us the power to keep Martin Luther King’s dream alive.
Dante Stewart reminds us of how Pastor James Bevel spoke of infinite hope: “There is a false rumor surrounding the death of our leader. Martin Luther King is not our leader. Our leader is the man who led Moses out of Egypt. Our leader is the one who went with Daniel to the lion’s den. Our leader is the man who rose from the grave on Easter morning. Our leader never sleeps or sleeps. He cannot be put in jail. Our boss is still on the case. Our leader is not dead. One of the prophets died. We won’t stop because of this. »
Alfred Smith served four decades as pastor of Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, California. Now a pastor emeritus, he is a member of American Baptist churches in the United States and doubly aligned with the Progressive National Baptist Convention, where he served as the organization’s 12th president.