October 22, 2017

Five Reasons I Don’t Like MLK Day

mlk_thumbl.gifUPDATE: Phillip Yancey on How MLK positively impacted his faith. A must-read.

For the 15 years I’ve worked in a private Christian school, I’ve been exposed to thousands of public school kids who bring their understanding and expectations of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to the school experience. I’ve learned a lot from these kids, and I’ve learned a lot about how they’ve come to understand this civil rights holiday in their youth culture, media, families and public schools.

In addition, every year I have preached on Dr. King, I receive feedback from the faculty and staff of our school. From them, I understand a bit of how evangelicals view this day. I listen to what evangelicals say in print and on the web.

And, of course, I live in the same information age as everyone else. I read, watch, listen and take in the many things said about MLK, Jr. and his legacy.

My conclusion: Here’s Five Reasons I Don’t Like Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

1) It’s not an African-American holiday. It’s an American holiday; a day for all of us. My African-American students almost universally resent that we do not dismiss school in deference to “their” holiday. (If any holiday should be celebrated by GOING to school, this one should.) When we’ve been asked to have MLK programs, students protest if the program is not all African-American, and for African-Americans. Virtually every image of MLK, Jr. day on the media is dominated by African-Americans.

It’s an American holiday. Dr. King said he wanted to see the day we stopped celebrating skin color and made up a community of love based on character. To make MLK, Jr. day an African-American holiday has the potential to increase the resentment many Americans- particularly in poor, rural areas like ours- already feel toward minorities.

If we can’t celebrate it as an American holiday, then let’s just don’t.

2) It’s not a liberal holiday to celebrate liberal solutions. MLK, Jr day has become a day for liberals to crow about their advocacy of civil rights and the need for statist, big government solutions to social problems. It’s a day for politicians to equate government spending and government programs with “justice” and “the dream.” It’s a weekend for every liberal interest from abortions to gay marriage to try and get King’s mantle on their cause. That’s ridiculous.

Dr. King’s ideas on social justice hardly resemble the solutions of today’s race baiters and misery pimps. The dignity of suffering, the advocacy of truthful speech, the refusal to whine, the call for conscience and action: these things, not government spending on more and more government programs and employees, are what Dr. King advocated. A role for government? Sure. Government as the savior and solution to every injustice? No way.

Further, Dr. King wanted a color-blind society, not the color-sensitized, reparations hungry society of the liberal pundits and playmakers. The rhetoric of Dr. King is rooted in conservative, traditional love of country and a sense of justice for all. He believed in the Constitution and the ideas of the Declaration. He wasn’t bothered that their authors owned slaves. He was a patriot. He believed in the vision of the founders and the eventual prevailing of justice through our system, minus violence. The anti-Americanism of much liberalism was nowhere on his radar.

Dr. King was anti-war, and he would not have been a Rush Limbaugh conservative, but saying Dr. King is well-represented by the race baiting and liberal posturing of Jackson and Sharpton is a scandal.

3. It’s not a replaying of the problems of the past as if they are the present. In other words, we’ve made enormous progress. America isn’t segregated by law anymore. The race mongers of the old south are now on the fringes of the fringe. (If it weren’t for 24 hour cable news and talk radio, they’d be invisible.) No one is being legally denied a job or an education because of being black or a minority. You are more likely to be denied access to college for being white than for being black.

America has changed. King’s dream, in some regards, has been achieved in many ways. Every year, this holiday should remind us of how far we have to go, but portraying conservatives as defenders of racism, as is the specialty of Bill Clinton, and acting as if America has no leaders of color in industry, government and education is a lie. The America of MLK Day 2007 is an America of Condi Rice, Chris Gardner, Colin Powell, Clarence Thomas, and many, many, many more. Color matters very little in comparison to 1968 when King died.

This isn’t the weekend to air conspiracy theories, resentments and demands for reparations. It’s not the weekend to say Americans hate people of color and we’re all at each others throats. Go to the places the civil rights struggle occured. Go to those cities and look what has happened. Then tell that story.

We have a long way to go, and we’ve come a long way. When celebrations of this day don’t recognize the substantial progress in our country, they lie and misrepresent the power of King’s influence. This isn’t a day to blame, but a day to be proud of what we have that other countries don’t, thanks to Dr. King and his generation of non-violent change agents.

4. Most Americans, especially young Americans, are ignorant of the history of the civil rights movement. While many of my students want a big King Day off, they don’t know anything about the movement that is being recognized as a paradigm for American progress. No names. No stories. No appreciation of the history.

They think athletes and musicians are significant Americans. They know more about Puffy than Frederick Douglas. They know more about the legal problems of Snoop Dogg than the legacy of Medgar Evars. I am grateful for teachers at our school who teach this legacy, but where has it been up to now? What was Black History Month all about if my students think the Scottsboro boys are a singing group.

The ignorance is depressing and I have seen no progress at all in reversing it.

5. I don’t like the ambiguity of evangelicals toward Dr. King. If I preach about Dr. King, I can already tell you about the letters and comments. It’s even worse in the blogosphere. The venom and hatred of Dr. King is of a kind I haven’t encountered about any public figure. It goes beyond personal. Somewhere, it touches the fact that many evangelicals are committed to a kind of white flight, practical apartheid that lets the occasional minority preach or sing, but still wants an all white suburban private school so our kids can become “leaders.”

I know all the facts. Plagarizer. Theological liberal. Adulterer. I know that many Christians to this day feel he was out of line to provoke reaction. (Clarence Jordan of Koinonia Farm opposed public marches, even as his ministry was persecuted for integration.) When he’s mentioned by preachers and invoked by Bono, I can feel the shift in the room.

King wasn’t a saint on the level of perfection. He was flawed like David, and used by God anyway. I have read his sermons many times. They are hardly orthodox in some ways, but they have an incredible appreciation of Jesus in others. While some evangelicals will spend the day linking his college and seminary papers as evidence of his apostasy, I’ll be grateful no one can find my college and seminary work. Good grief.

We ought to be glad King’s vision was of the peace of Christ and treating people as the images of God. We should thank God he was willing to suffer, be bold and go to the cross. We should see him as an American martyr and thank God for his faith, Christ’s power in his life and his love for all persons, especially his enemies. We can learn a lot from him and we should embrace him.

Instead, evangelicals will be of split mind and some will make it their business to run down the great man as some expression of service to God. Weird. Here’s one time we can tell the culture to look at a flawed person and see the grace and power of God, and we won’t. I guess he’s not Pat Robertson. That’s right. He’s not. Look at all the orthodox evangelicals have done for racial justice. ***crickets***

In his day, King said the church- the moderate, white church- was his greatest disappointment. Progress has been made, but we still have a long way to go. Some evangelicals won’t learn from anyone that isn’t one of their “kind.” That’s their loss, and a poor witness.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the man and the day. I celebrate it. I pray for its genuine influence in our country. But we haven’t done so well with it, and I pray we can do better.

[If you want to celebrate the day, the Dream Speech is fine, but if you haven’t read “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” you don’t know why Dr. King is so relevant and important for Christians today.]

Comments

  1. statist, big government solutions to social problems.

    Man, you should live in places where this happens. We have less health problems, less crime…

  2. I live in one of the most federally subsidized areas of the country.

  3. How refreshing.
    There is so much harping on about the negatives of this man by so many Christians across the divide, like their closet is so clean and white washed!

    He made a contribution to American history. Recognise him for what he achieved (personally I think it is the wrong time of year..people are post Christmas/New Year weary!) and move on.

  4. I just came up with #6:

    I’m pretty sure MLK would hate the idea. Esp the tendency to take a movement and turn it into a monument, which is what you’ve got here.

  5. Orthodox evangelicals, racial justice? How about William Wilberforce? He certainly classes as an orthodox evangelical on this side of the pond…

  6. Wilberforce is outstanding in every way.

    Including being pretty much one of the very, very few evangelicals who broke the mold of “let God take care of it.”

    Evangelicals have some people who are concerned for justice, but they are rare. Very very rare. In the civil rights era, they were mostly on the side of the water hoses and dogs. (Not all, but mostly.) And the SBC was founded by slave owners defending slavery to the death if necessary.

    I mean, we have colonies of Calvinists right now who want to make sure we all know that slavery would have gone away on its own.

    “Why we can’t wait” should be required reading.

  7. rising4air says:

    Great post. I find exactly the same kind of responses among conservative/evangelicals about King. Sad, sad, sad.

    I recall a few years back our local newspaper published the “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” I hadn’t read it before then, and I was sooo inspired and sooo ashamed that I hadn’t read it sooner. Solid: all of those complainers notwithstanding.

  8. My best friend and I were playig with our G.I. Joes in his front yard, when somehow the topic of race came up. We were only eight or nine years old. Maybe one of my G.I. Joes was the black one with kung fu grip and the fuzzy beard and mustache. I’m not sure. But in any case, race came up, and Bobby said that he didn’t like black people. I asked him why. He told me that they did bad things, like rob and hurt people. I asked if he had been robbed or hurt by any black people. He told me no. In fact he had never met a black person, even though we lived in NYC. Admittedly, we lived on the south shore of Staten Island, a lily white neighborhood that no one of color would dare enter into safely. I asked him again, if he hadn’t ever met anyone black, how did he know that they were bad? He told me that his father told him so. That’s how he knew. Bobby was my best friend. He was a good, bright kid. Very nice to be around. But his family was middle class and could afford to stay in their bubble, apart from anyone who looked, talked, or thought different. My family was divorced. I was sickly. I had to go to the clinic instead of the local family doctor. Thus I had to ride the train to the West Brighton projects to see the doctor. That clinic office was always filled. Parents and their kids who had different skin and different accents and different smells all sat and waited to be seen. Us kids played together, because we had nothing better to do. To this day I’m grateful for being poor by my neighborhood’s standards. I’m a different, and I think better, person for it. I don’t remember saying it, but my mother told me that I said that I wished I was black once when I was little. She asked why. I told her that they seemed to be happy and were very friendly. I hope my chilodhood friend Bobby is doing alright now. Out old houses are still there. The neighborhood is still lily white.

  9. Great post. Your point #6 is particularly pertinent – it’s like the way in which the catholic church in the middle ages invoked St Francis of Assisi – a thorn in the flesh of the institutional church in life, he became a useful rallying cry for the renewal of the church in death; as eloquently symbolised by the basilica erected at Assisi, complete with extravagant gold-embossed frescoes proclaiming Francis’ love of poverty!

    As regards ambiguity towards Dr King, I’m sure that in some cases this is a reaction to the exaggerated view of his personal sanctity that otherwise prevails. Having grown up with a generalised sense of Dr King as being a Good Thing, I was genuinely surprised when I first heard about some of the more negative issues (both theological and moral). This did unsettle me and make it harder to profess a straightforward admiration for Dr King as a Christian figure. Thank you for the reminder that there was far more to him than this.

    “Here’s one time we can tell the culture to look at a flawed person and see the grace and power of God, and we won’t.” – spot on.

  10. Easy trigger. I realize you’re venting, but you got a couple of things dead wrong.

    1) It’s not an African-American holiday. It’s an American holiday; a day for all of us.

    Now Michael, I know you’ve got to be more sensitive and aware than this. Truly, saying this is like saying “I know that our race has oppressed yours for a while now, but 20, 30, 40 years after his death, we’ve decided we could really like this guy. Nevermind that our white politicians blocked this holiday time and again – he’s ours too.”

    Of course the A-A community is claiming this holiday as their own – they were celebrating this when Jesse Helms was all up in arms about his opposition to the Vietnam War and his supposed links to Communism.

    Is it intended to be a holiday for everyone? Absolutely. But let’s not be ignorant of social dynamics. It wasn’t until 2000 that all 50 states recognized the holiday, so let’s not do the “he’s our guy, too” song and dance.

    2) It’s not a liberal holiday to celebrate liberal solutions.

    Wikipedia says it the most succinctly I’ve ever heard: “After King’s death in 1968, Rep. John Conyers introduced a bill in Congress to make King’s birthday a national holiday, highlighting King’s activism on behalf of trade unionists.” (emphasis mine)

    Not a liberal holiday? Yeah, in fact it is.

    3. It’s not a replaying of the problems of the past as if they are the present. In other words, we’ve made enormous progress.

    Sure – no one is being hanged in a state sanctioned lynchings, and crosses aren’t regularly seen burning in the Kentucky night (your state and mine till three months ago). However, the racism has changed. It is now subtle and symbolic.

    In 1997, David Sears coined what he termed “subtle racism.” The APA summarizes it thusly:

    Sears’ version of the new racism describes a more elusive, political, almost abstract language of race which avoids blatantly negative racist statements in favor of political codewords and symbols. This new racism is partly based on a view of racial discrimination as being outdated and puts the onus of achievement and equality on African Americans and other ethnic minority people. If African Americans would, for example, stop clamoring for special treatment and simply work harder, they could achieve the American Dream. The idea is that it is African Americans’ own deficienciesÑwhether they be greed, laziness, violence, and so onÑthat are the cause of their problems, not the history of slavery, segregation, discrimination, prejudice, and racism which is assumed to have come to an end.

    The new racism is thought to be most visible in White persons’ views on affirmative action, crime, drugs, welfare, teenage pregnancy, and unemployment. Conversations on these topics often are dominated by an unspoken subtext of racial attitudes. Consistent with the theory of illusory correlation, it is often assumed (despite statistics to the contrary) that the majority of persons involved in such activities are ethnic minorities. Consequently, unspoken racial attitudes shape our definition of such problems and their resolutions. The Willie Horton commercials from George Bush’s presidential campaign are an example of the symbolic racist code used to advance political positions. This new racism also integrates racial prejudice and core traditional American values. For example, the values of hard work and moral behavior are thought to be violated by stereotypes of African Americans, Latinos, and American Indians as lazy and violent.

    We may have come long way, but we’ve still got too long of a long way to go to start feeling good about ourselves.

    4. Most Americans, especially young Americans, are ignorant of the history of the civil rights movement.

    5. I don’t like the ambiguity of evangelicals toward Dr. King.

    I’ll totally give you these.

    On a side note – make a special trip to Cincy and visit that National Underground Railroad Freedom Center…no matter where you live.

  11. >let’s not be ignorant of social dynamics.

    Yes. Let’s not.

    It’s an American holiday about an American patriots dream of a color-blind society.

    >Not a liberal holiday? Yeah, in fact it is.

    Your Wikipedia reference ends that debate.

    >However, the racism has changed. It is now subtle and symbolic.

    107 years ago my school was chartered all white. Today it’s 50% black. Come over here and tell us we’ve not made progress and we’re still racists. In fact, come tell my black students that one. I’d like to hear the reaction.

    I agree there is still racism. But reliving the legal racism of the past as if its present is nuts. I work with AA families and students. I know whats going on and not. Come tell my African immigrant students, or my Asian students about American racism. They’ll agree, while they are accumulating wealth, property and influence far in excess of the poor whites here in Eastern Ky.

    Thanks for the comment.

  12. >Not a liberal holiday? Yeah, in fact it is.

    “Your Wikipedia reference ends that debate.”

    ouch!

  13. >Not a liberal holiday? Yeah, in fact it is.

    “Your Wikipedia reference ends that debate.”

    ouch!

    No doubt. Was that meant to be an insult?

    It’s an American holiday about an American patriots dream of a color-blind society.

    Simply because King said “where my children can be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character” does not mean that he advocated a color-blind society.

    King’s point was always “you refuse to acknowledge me as a whole person.” To advocate for color-blindness is to say “please don’t recognize the defining characteristic of my life”, because ontologically speaking, there is no way to get away from one’s “blackness” (I’m speaking from a James Cone/Black Theology perspective here).

    They’ll agree, while they are accumulating wealth, property and influence far in excess of the poor whites here in Eastern Ky.

    And there’s the logical rub – “We’ve made progress because there are now whites who are poorer than everyone else.” I’m not buying it, Michael. Racism, classism, and sexism are all bound together. You can’t pull one group out as exemplary and say “Look here – we’re doing better” when other groups are still suffering.

    Dr. King’s agenda was to make sure we understood that all of our destinies were bound up in one another (different though we may be). To speak of poor whites as being illustrative of you argument is to actually disprove yourself. We have not made progress because someone is still getting the shaft.

    (Remember, King died in Memphis while he was there marching with the sanitation workers – of all shades.)

    When I was living in the West End of Louisville (read: “the bad part of town”) my neighbors told me that the only thing that scared them was the poor white folk.

    “Why?” I asked.

    “Because they have a chip on their shoulder and nothing to loose.”

    “What’s the chip on their shoulder?”

    “At least they ain’t black.”

    I think the only progress we’ve made is that we tolerate on another better.

    I’m done. I’m not trying to be argumentative (really – just straight forward), so I’ll let it drop and let you have the last word if you want it.

  14. Histrion (Jay H) says:

    iMonk wrote: Instead, evangelicals will be of split mind and some will make it their business to run down the great man as some expression of service to God.

    In the next paragraph he wrote: In his day, King said the church- the moderate, white church- was his greatest disappointment.

    Coincidence? I think not. 😉

  15. > “The new racism is thought to be most visible in White persons’ views on affirmative action, crime, drugs, welfare, teenage pregnancy, and unemployment.”

    I’ll put aside affirmative action because that is an inextricably racial issue. But on the other issues mentioned, which is cause and which is effect? Do you think conservative whites would be fine about “crime, drugs, welfare, teenage pregnancy, and unemployment” if these were (seen to be) engaged in by whites to the same, or a greater, extent as they are (seen to be) engaged in by Black people? If they are told by their educated betters that “You only hate and fear Willie Horton because he’s African-American, not because he’s a rapist and a murderer”, is that going to do anything to break the link in their minds between being Black and being more likely to engage in anti-social behaviour?

    Yes, if we were talking about morally neutral matters that diverged on racial grounds – “Most white people claim they hate the sound of jazz, blues and rap music, and claim it’s on grounds of musical taste and artistic merit, but the real reason is that they think of these as ‘n****er music'” – then the “symbolic racism” theory would have more traction. It would be too big a coincidence if *all* White people just happened to “dislike the sound of” rap, jazz or blues.

    But when people claim to dislike particular lifestyles/behaviours, *and* those lifestyles/behaviours are ones that impose burdens on the rest of society, then simply playing “gotcha” — “Aha! In fact, a higher proportion of Black women than White women are unwed teenage mothers. This means your discomfort about unwed teenage pregnancy is a cloak for your hatred and contempt for Black people” – is not going to win anyone over.