Dr. King’s Work Lives on Today

Dr. King’s Work Lives on Today

Offered by the Rev. Whitney Altopp

Join the Rev. Canon Ranjit K. Mathews and the Rev. Whitney Altopp on Feb. 1 at 6 p.m. via Zoom to learn more about The Poor People’s Campaign and the upcoming Mass Poor People’s & Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly and Moral March on Washington. Learn more.

The annual remembrance of Dr. King draws our attention to his call for unity across racial division. This message continues to resonate and inspire us today. However, in honor of him, we would do well to remember his other calls to action. At his death, Dr. King was fighting against what he called the “triplets of evil”– militarism, racism, and economic injustice– a combination which disregards human value. He and others committed themselves to solidarity with the poor of our nation to fight to close the economic gap by addressing the unholy trinity of these three features of American life. The effort was called The Poor People’s Campaign. It could be argued that this is ultimately what got him killed.

The Rev. Dr. William Barber and The Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis have breathed new life into the Poor People’s Campaign. Beginning in 2018, “from Mother’s Day to the Summer Solstice, poor people and moral witnesses in 40 states committed themselves to a season of direct action to launch the Campaign. What ensued was the most expansive wave of nonviolent civil disobedience in the 21st century United States. More than a series of rallies and actions, a new organism of state-based movements was born. Now, in over 40 states, the groundwork for a mass poor people’s movement is emerging.” 1 This revival of the Poor People’s Campaign came 50 years after Dr. King died working on it.

Then, as now, the Poor People’s Campaign called for attention to:

  • Systemic Racism
  • Poverty and Inequality
  • Ecological Devastation
  • War Economy and Militarism
  • National Morality

When the “triplets of evil”—militarism, racism, and economic injustice— come together, they create an environment of exploitation and disregard. Evil grows up around and through us, seemingly with ease. As the Poor People’s Campaign goes on to say:

“Today, 50 years after Rev. Dr. King and the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign declared that “silence was betrayal,” we are coming together to break the silence and tell the truth about the interlocking evils of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, the war economy and our distorted moral narrative.
The truth is that systemic racism allows us to deny the humanity of others; by denying the humanity of others, we are given permission to exploit or exclude people economically; by exploiting and excluding people economically, we are emboldened to abuse our military powers and, through violence and war, control resources; this quest for the control of resources leads to the potential destruction of our entire ecosystem and everything living in it. And the current moral narrative of our nation both justifies this cycle and distracts us from it.” 2

In Dr. King’s final book, Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community, published posthumously, we hear his prophetic words for that present moment speak to our present moment.

“We have ancient habits to deal with, vast structures of power, indescribably complicated problems to solve. But unless we abdicate our humanity all together and succumb to fear and impotence in the presence of the weapons we ourselves have created, it is as possible and as urgent to put an end to war and violence between nations as it is to put an end to poverty and racial injustice…I do not minimize the complexity of the problems that need to be faced in achieving disarmament and peace. But I am convinced that we shall not have the will, the courage and the insight to deal with such matters unless in this field we are prepared to undergo a mental and spiritual re-evaluation, a change of focus which will enable us to see that the things that seem most real and powerful are indeed now unreal and have come under sentence of death. We need to make a supreme effort to generate the readiness, indeed the eagerness, to enter into the new world which is now possible, ‘the city which hath foundation, whose Building and Maker is God.’”3

The Poor People’s Campaign in its current inception helps us have “the will, the courage and the insight to deal with such matters.” The Rev. Canon Ranjit K. Mathews and I are inviting interested persons to a planning meeting on Feb. 1 at 6 p.m. via Zoom, to begin to lay the groundwork for a Connecticut presence at the Mass Poor People’s & Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly and Moral March on Washington on June 18, 2022. Learn more about how you can participate in this planning meeting.

We hope that you’ll be inspired by the closing words of Dr. King’s final book.

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The ‘tide in the affairs of men’ does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: ‘Too late.’ There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. ‘The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on…’ We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation. This may well be mankind’s last chance to choose between chaos or community.” 4

To Be Political

by the Rev. Canon Ranjit K. Mathews

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. displays the poster to be used during his Poor People’s Campaign on March 4, 1968. (Horace Cort / AP)

One of many teachings that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shared through his life is that as baptized followers of Jesus, our ministry will inevitably be political. He didn’t necessarily name this; but he certainly embodied it.

As Episcopalians, however, it is important that we name politics and that as followers of Jesus, we will have to be political to move into the work that Jesus told us to do, in his name.

Episcopalians find the word “politics” within Church settings difficult because when we hear the word, we think of electoral partisanship. And of course, Churches should never be sites of political partisanship. However, by the very nature of following Jesus and how he called us to live:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

we will be political. And like renowned Rabbi Danya Ruttenburg says, “my tradition has policy implications.”

This is but one of the many ways, we can learn from the life of Dr. King.

If we are not able to acknowledge the deeply political dimension of the Gospel, we end up making the Dr. King holiday an idol we worship, celebrating the man, but evading the call to embody the work of Christ.

The reality is the holiday has become a national and even an ecclesial idol, a chance for a majority of the United States and people of faith to talk about a so called “post-racial society, pontificate in a book club about racial justice,” but stopping from taking the next collective step forward as a society to challenge systemic injustice. The holiday has become an opiate to embodied justice work.

Jesus never called us to worship him; but to follow him. It is always time to talk, ponder, and stretch our own moral imagination to the life of Dr. King; but we should not stop there. Our communal reality calls us to embody, to live a life that is radiant with justice. What we profess on a Sunday morning needs to live on, on a Monday.

In what ways can you take another step forward in embodying the Gospel? In a culture of silence, speak the Truth in Love. Do some research on the Poor People’s Campaign. There are endless opportunities and I invite you to take the next right step.

MLK Day Collects & Prayers

Collects from The Book of Common Prayer

Contemporary

Holy Women, Holy Men:
Martin Luther King, Jr.
(pg. 307)

Almighty God, by the hand of Moses your servant you led your people out of slavery, and made them free at last: Grant that your Church, following the example of your prophet Martin Luther King, may resist oppression in the name of your love, and may secure for all your children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; who lives
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer: For Social Justice (pg. 260)

Almighty God, who hast created us in thine own image: Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Traditional

Holy Women, Holy Men:
Martin Luther King, Jr. (pg. 307)

Almighty God, who by the hand of Moses thy servant didst lead thy people out of slavery, and didst make them free at last: Grant that thy Church, following the example of thy prophet Martin Luther King, may resist oppression in the name of thy love, and may strive to secure for all thy children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer: For Social Justice (pg. 209)

Almighty God, who hast created us in thine own image: Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Prayers from The Book of Common Prayer

For Social Justice (pg. 823)

Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart [and especially the hearts of the people of this land], that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For the Poor and the Neglected (pg. 826)

Almighty and most merciful God, we remember before you all poor and neglected persons whom it would be easy for us to forget: the homeless and the destitute, the old and the sick, and all who have none to care for them. Help us to heal those who are broken in body or spirit, and to turn their sorrow into joy. Grant this, Father, for the love of your Son, who for our sake became poor, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For the Oppressed (pg. 826)

Look with pity, O heavenly Father, upon the people in this land who live with injustice, terror, disease, and death as their constant companions. Have mercy upon us. Help us to eliminate our cruelty to these our neighbors. Strengthen those who spend their lives establishing equal protection of the law and equal opportunities for all. And grant that every one of us may enjoy a fair portion of the riches of this land; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thanksgiving For the Diversity of Races and Cultures (pg. 840)

O God, who created all peoples in your image, we thank you for the wonderful diversity of races and cultures in this world. Enrich our lives by ever-widening circles of fellowship, and show us your presence in those who differ most from us, until our knowledge of your love is made perfect in our love for all your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.