It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the U.S. That means we’ll hear all the usual “I Have A Dream” platitudes. In churches yesterday, hymns were sung along themes to honor the reverend doctor, such as traditional Aftican American spirituals.
In the U.S., the word “Christian” is often conflated with conservative, Republican, etc. It’s a strange association, honestly, and something of a poisonous one. It’s an association established by some very vocal Evangelical groups. But it erases important details, such as that Dr. King’s political and social advocacy was born out of sound christian doctrine.
Galatians 3:28 reminds us that “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” This verse is far from alone in noting that human divisions are meaningless in God’s order. Race, gender, wealth? These are social constructs, not God-given things. The work of the Christian, then, is to see through those divisions and to value the human who is clothed in those things like a veil.
So what is incompatible with Christianity? Indeed, many of the ideologies now associated with the name Christian. Racism, sexism, homophobia, prosperity gospel, capitalism… the list goes on. What is incompatible with Christianity is anything which sows divisions, hatred, or callousness, anything which allows the powerful to be comfortable in any sense at the cost of the wellbeing of the poor and rejected.
What IS compatible with Christianity is admitting when we fall short, allowing ourselves to be broken, imperfect, limited people, but forgiving ourselves and each other for these shortcomings and still working toward a less divided, less fearful, less unequal world. We must live in the works, and the world is filled with systems that work against love and the value of all people. But we can also work against those systems.
Dr. King is honored because, in part, martyrs are easy heroes. They can’t correct you when you shape their memory into whatever tepid form suits your needs. Had he not been assassinated, I doubt we’d have streets named for him in every city, because he’d still be speaking words the powerful don’t want to hear. And so every January we see powerful people giving lip service to his memory with platitudes, comfortably pretending to themselves that racism ended in the 1960s and there is no more work to do.
But Dr. King’s very Christian work is not done until every man is given a place at the table. Until every wall falls down, and justice reigns.
When everyone I know (despite living in a very privileged bubble, mind you!) can give a litany of times when they themselves have witnessed racism, sexism, homophobia, or other forms of systemic hatred, our work is not done. All of us carry witness to injustice. If you call yourself Christian, how can you keep silent, when your very name is used to continue injustice?