Wednesday, Jan 15th, 2014 is the anniversary of Dr. King's 85th birthday. Like others who are alive today and who worked with Dr. King, the most frequent questions asked of me are what would he say or do TODAY about such as issues gun violence, income inequality, same sex marriage, etc.? All of us who were associated with Dr. King, in most instances, don't have to speculate as to what he would say because he left us a body of work and opinions that provide an indication.
Domestic gun violence, international sectarian violence, and widening income inequality in our country today would provoke him to initiate a call for immediate remedial action. Dr. King would say that THE challenge of the 21st century is whether or not we will commit ourselves to current and future policies of governance that encourage and foster non-violence as the only rational choice for resolving disputes among our neighbors and strangers, between different religious affiliated groups internationally, and between nations.
In a speech in 1967, titled "America's Chief Moral Dilemma" he said:
"We suffer from a kind of poverty of spirit, which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance. We have learned to swim the seas like fish, fly the air like birds. Yet we have not learned the simple art of walking the earth like brothers."
Dr. King's commitment to non-violence was unequivocal and unambiguous. This commitment was predicated on his belief that our ability to survive, internationally and domestically, is limited to only two choices: non-violence or non-existence, non-violence or co-annihilation.
Phil Cousineau in his book, Beyond Forgiveness: Reflections on Atonement, reminds us:
"Throughout history people have had to make difficult, even heartrending decisions about how to respond to the suffering they have endured at the hands of other human beings -- or the pain they themselves have inflicted upon other people...
... Over and over, we are confronted with the dilemma of how to respond to the cruelty and suffering that can pervade our lives. Do we forgive, or do we retaliate? Should we make peace or exact revenge? Can we live alongside our enemies, or do we seek retribution?
While retaliation has earned the lion's share of attention over the centuries, more measured responses to both personal and collective conflicts have also been practiced.
The instinct to be vindictive may be as old as stone, but the impulse toward reconciliation runs like an ancient underground river. And like water dissolving stone if it flows long enough, so too can acts of compassion dissolve anger, the showing of remorse prompt forgiveness, and the making of amends alleviate guilt."
I am confident that if Dr. King were alive, he would say that one of the principal defining issues TODAY is not that of those rights and protections guaranteed under the Second Amendment to our Constitution, but the moral injunction of the Sixth Biblical Commandment: THOU SHALT NOT KILL!
Our nation is awash in guns. Guns are the leading cause of death in America. There are more guns in America than people.
Violence lies like molten lava beneath the surface of our society, just waiting to erupt. We can choose to be bystanders, cover our eyes and ears, or become pro-active to meet the challenge that Dr. King's legacy commitment to non-violence presents to us.
With the exception of Reverend Al Sharpton using his media platform of MSNBC, where is the public commitment and action of other national religious leaders to stop the gun violence in so many of our communities? Where are The National Council of Churches and Congregation of Jewish organizational leadership. Why are they not shouting 24/7, "STOP THE GUN VIOLENCE!"
Repetitive platitudes commemorating Dr. King's birthday on THIS King holiday, in the absence of any PUBLIC declaration TO STOP THE VIOLENCE, are irrelevant and meaningless.
Tomorrow, in "Part 2" of this blog, we will write about "Poverty and Income Inequality," the other principal issues most relevant to commemorating Dr. King's 85th birthday.