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God's Politics

This weekend, our nation paused once again to remember the life of a modern-day prophet. In pulpits across the country, preachers offered sermons reflecting on Dr. Martin Luther King’s seemingly timeless message. While Dr. King’s words were quoted across the nation, I fear that the majority of Americans only heard a perfunctory mention of King’s dream of racial harmony, with barely a mention of his even bolder words against what he called the “giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism.”

Too often our churches are guilty of sanitizing and domesticating King’s radical message. We embrace the King of Montgomery, Selma, and Birmingham, while ignoring the King who boldly and courageously opposed the Vietnam War, arguing that “America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube.” We lose sight of the man who was assassinated while supporting sanitation workers in Memphis. We forget that prior to his death, King was in the midst of organizing a Poor Peoples campaign to unite white, black, and brown around a shared economic justice agenda. Dr. King understood that the next phase of civil rights had to realize economic justice for the disinherited of America. At worst, some will proof text and manipulate King’s words – such as “we should be judged not by the color of our skin but by the content of our character” in order to justify their own ideological arguments to reverse many of the gains of the civil rights movement, including in affirmative action programs.

I want to remember Dr. King as he wanted to be remembered. In 1965, King said of himself, “I am many things to many people, but in the quiet recesses of my heart, I am fundamentally a clergyman, a Baptist preacher. This is my being and my heritage, for I am also the son of a Baptist preacher, the grandson of Baptist preacher, and great-grandson of a Baptist preacher”.

Dr. King embodied so much of the best of the prophetic commitment of the black church. King stood tall in representing a tradition that witnesses to the seamless connection between personal salvation and social and economic liberation. In too many churches across America, this prophetic tradition has been overshadowed by a narcissistic gospel of greed. Too often, the old rugged cross has been draped in the American dollar and the American flag.

Dr. King’s birthday represents a day not only to celebrate the birth of a great American prophet, but also a day to recommit ourselves to the prophetic work of the church and realize the unfinished business of the kingdom.


Adam Taylor is director of campaigns and organizing for Sojourners/Call to Renewal, and an associate minister at Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.

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