602: From King to Obama and beyond… What’s the future of spiritual leadership?

Martin Luther King Jr
T
his is a special week at ReadTheSpirit exploring the future of spiritual leadership. We’re using the term “spiritual” to show that this question is broader than organized religion.
Martin Luther King Jr LIFE archives     Monday, we published a series by the Rev. Daniel Buttry, international peace negotiator for American
Baptist Churches (Dr. King’s own denomination) about King’s global connections with civil rights leaders in distant lands
.
    Come back Wednesday for a look at Rick Warren, the influential and controversial evangelical leader these days, through an interview with his biographer Jeffrey Sheler. (We listed Warren in our new “10 to Watch in ’10” list.)
    But, TODAY, the question is: Where do we stand now? And what does the future hold? Millions are raising this question because of the convergence of the King holiday with the anniversary of President Obama’s inauguration. A new Washington Post-ABC News Poll indicates that Americans’ high hopes for racial reconciliation in America are fading in light of political realities. The Post reported in part:

    On the eve of President Obama’s inauguration a year ago, nearly 6
in 10 Americans said his presidency would advance cross-racial ties.
Now, about 4 in 10 say it has done so. The falloff has been
highest among African Americans. Last January, three-quarters of blacks
said they expected Obama’s presidency to help. In the new poll, 51
percent of African Americans say he has helped, a wider gap between
expectations and performance than among whites.
   
Although most of all those polled view Obama’s election as a mark of
progress for all African Americans, three in 10 say it is not
indicative of broader change.

    What can you do? How can your voice be heard?
    FIRST, visit Dr. Wayne Baker’s OurValues.org Web site today, where he is devoting the entire week to King’s legacy—in light of changing realities for millions of Americans. Today, Dr. Baker raises a moving question, which was penned by Dr. King himself in his jail cell years ago.
    SECOND, many readers Emailed our Home Office directly on Monday with thoughts about King, the Obama anniversary and also our American response to Haiti, which some readers link to issues of race and class as well. (Email us anytime at [email protected])
    One of the most stirring and thought-provoking of those Emails was the text of a sermon preached in the Chicago area by an Episcopal priest, the Rev. Rod Reinhart. We last welcomed Rod to ReadTheSpirit in September, when he organized a special day of prayer in the streets of his city just south of Chicago.
    Rod preached this sermon on Dr. King on Sunday …
   

Martin Luther King Jr speaks in LIFE photo “I have a Dream.”
    That’s what Dr. King told us.
    “I have a dream that one day people of every age. every race. every nation and every creed can stand together as equals. as brothers and sisters. in a world free from bigotry, hatred and fear.”
   

Back in those difficult days of the 1960’s that dream seemed distant, disconnected and impossible to achieve: all over the South, all over the nation—everywhere. Dr. King and his many courageous followers looked, and spoke, and took action. They faced the vision of second-rate jobs, third-rate housing and fourth-rate opportunities. All over the South—and even all over the nation—any time Dr. King or one of his followers stood up to demand justice, equality, and equal opportunity in jobs, housing, public accommodations and schools—they ran the risk of derision, violence and death.
   

The dream seemed distant and impossible to achieve, yet Dr. King dreamed it and convinced us all to share in that dream.
   

Today, we see massive and undeniable evidence that his dream has come true. We see people of all races working closely together as equals in sports, entertainment, business, government, education, medicine, and in every possible field of endeavor. We see people of all races, nations and creeds who treat each other as brothers, sisters and friends in every city and state in our land.

Martin Luther King Jr LIFE collection     

At the same time, however, we see massive and undeniable evidence that his dream has not come true. In times of prosperity and growth, we saw that racial and ethnic minorities never achieved the same level of wealth and prosperity as other people in our society. And in these times of poverty and depression, we can see that unemployment, hunger, job loss and need among racial minorities have skyrocketed far higher than for other Americans. In fact, it has become obvious that banks and mortgage companies targeted blacks and Hispanics with bad loans that were guaranteed to fail. It has also become obvious that jobs and factories and companies that upheld black communities all over the nation have been closed and moved to far-away states and distant nations.
   

So in this time, when the dream has come true for many people, we must remember that the dream has not come true for many others. In this time when Barack Obama, Sonya Sotomayor and endless numbers of other successful people have made the dream come true, we must remember that there are still systems and forces of bigotry and injustice that create unemployment, inequality and poverty, which make the dream seem further away than ever for many.
   

When we preach about Martin Luther King today, we must always emphasize that his mission and his message is both universal and unfinished. Toward the end of his life, King was calling for unity, equality, inclusion and prosperity for all races, genders, orientations, nationalities, social classes and ethnic groups.
   

He was calling on all people in every part of the world to unite together to Build the Kingdom of God.
    And that is a world—a beloved community of equality, justice, opportunity and peace for everyone—no matter who they were or what their race or background might be. Dr. King’s deepest concern was the transformation of the souls, minds, policies and behaviors of individuals, churches, institutions and governments. He believed that God works through Christians to redeem and change the hearts and attitudes of bigots. But if that did not work, then God had to work through governments to pass laws that would change their actions and behaviors.

Martin Luther King Jr in LIFE magazine     

Although many things have changed in America, we are all still working to complete the mission of Martin Luther King. We are all still repeating and studying his message. Here in this season when we celebrate the life and work and sacrifice of this man we respect so much, we must remember that today, he calls us to unite together and work together to build a world where everyone has access to the basic things that make life valuable and secure:

   

Quality health care
    Quality education
   

Well-paying jobs
   

Safe and prosperous communities and schools
   

Honest and well-regulated banks and mortgage companies
    Free and fair elections
   

Social progress
    Freedom of worship
   

A safe environment
    A world living in prosperity and peace
   

Safe and secure air travel…
    A life free of drugs and addiction
   

Unbroken families raising honest and responsible kids
    Respect and care for the elderly
   

Disaster relief for Haiti
   

These are all issues that Dr. King spoke about—or would have spoken about—had he not been taken from us.

   

When we celebrate this day, we are not simply remembering the work and legacy of Martin Luther King—we are advancing the uncompleted mission and unfinished work that Martin Luther King left for us to do. We must remind the churches that King did his work mostly in and through the church—and he encouraged and invited clergy and members of all races, classes, nations and groups to participate in the work of the Black Church, which was to build a world of equality and justice for those who did not have it.
   

When we celebrate this day, we must remind the wider community that we are inviting to continue the mission of Martin Luther King by working in partnership with our Churches—and all churches—and all people of faith everywhere—as we build together the kind of world envisioned by King so many years ago.
   

We elected Barack Obama but that does not complete the work of King. We remember the success of great minority sports figures like Muhammad Ali or Jackie Robinson, but that does not complete the work of King. We recognize the successes and wealth of great black entertainers and business leaders, but they did not complete the work of Martin Luther King.
   

There are still enormous problems to be solved and enormous wrongs to be righted. There is still work to be done—missions still to be accomplished. The mission of King is yet to be finished.
   

Things may improve—things may change …
    Meanwhile, each one of us must do our part:
    Each one of us must follow in the footsteps of Martin Luther King
    Each one of us must live and work and spread the message
    Each one of us must help to build a world of justice, equality, salvation and faith where all of us—no matter what our race or gender or nationality might be—where all of us can stand together and say:
    “Thank you God for sending Martin Luther King. Thank you for helping us move forward together. Thank you for giving us the call to complete and accomplish his dream.”

Martin Luther King Jr LIFE magazine

    NOTE on TODAY’S PHOTOS: They’re from LIFE Magazine’s archives indexed through Google. Check out this marvelous archive next time you’re Googling.

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