Reclaiming Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Related imageNearly all great movements originate in the pioneering work of some person of genius, amid the opposition of established modes of thought, until an army of lesser intellects scatter the new thought broadcast (Dresser 1895). Thus, is the case with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who’s brilliance and Theo-political savvy is unmatched in the twentieth century.  The sanitization of Dr. King in popular culture works to reduce his nuanced and sophisticated message to sound bites of integrationist ideologies won through perpetual respectability politics, and ignores his critique of the wealthy elite that create the effects of poverty, the military industrial complex, the imperialist impulse of America, and the emptiness of American Christianity in the dominant culture. If one definition of a prophet is a person who threatens culture’s power structure by holding a mirror to its folly and showing where such folly leads, then Rev. King was truly the premiere prophet the United States of America has ever produced.  Jesus observed that culture kills such a prophet, and having killed the prophet in order to be rid of the threat, that culture then builds a “monument over the prophet’s grave” (Pearce 2002). These are the mythologies through which prophets are converted from cultural critics into cultural icons in service of power. These icons receive much saintly hero worship and little attention is then paid to the potency of their message. Most of Dr. King’s message has been hijacked by dominate culture in an effort to save itself from the truth, and from the seismic change that truth requires.

Image result for martin luther kingJustice for Dr. King was not limited to a dream of children holding hands while singing together in the same school, especially if that dream is not inclusive of radical wealth redistribution. King taught “Justice for Black people will not flow into society merely from court decisions nor from fountains of political oratory. Nor will a few token changes quell all the tempestuous yearnings of millions of disadvantaged Black people. White America must recognize that justice for Black people cannot be achieved without radical changes in the structure of our society. The comfortable, the entrenched, the privileged cannot continue to tremble at the prospect of change in the status quo” (King 1987).  It dishonors Dr. King’s legacy when we speak of him in terms of a race leader without acknowledging his prophetic work. For King, the condition of truth was to allow suffering to speak, for him justice is what love looked like in public. The fulfilment of his dream was for all poor and working people to live lives of decency and dignity. Martin Luther King Jr. called militarism an imperial catastrophe, Racism a moral catastrophe, and poverty an economic catastrophe (Jr. 2015). Our task is to hold true to his vision of justice even when we are tempted to truncate his message in order to make the dominant culture safe in celebrating him.

The Poor People’s Campaign together with his message against the Vietnam War preached from the Riverside Church in New York, give us a picture of the vastness of his erudite Theo-political agility. Prophetic religious tradition is always centered in resistance. Resistance is the physical, overt expression of an inner attitude, so in the tradition of Moses, Martin Luther King Jr. taught his generation and succeeding generations how to engage a public theology of resistance (Thurman 1976).  King’s great contrImage result for martin luther kingibution to the whole of Christianity is to remind The Church that we must insist upon both this-worldly liberation and otherworldly salvation as the proper loci of the message of Jesus (West 2002). It is impossible to be a follower of Jesus and remain indifferent to the suffering of your fellow man.  If the center of the message of Jesus is the ethic of neighbor love rooted in whole hearted love of God and grounded in self-love, then any injustice is intolerable to any degree. The message of Jesus is subversive and transgressive and ultimately got him killed. Dr. King followed the tradition of Jesus and was murdered for a radically transgressive and subversive Gospel.

Image result for martin luther kingThis week as we celebrate the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Let us redouble our efforts to end the spread of imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy.  Let us lift our voice is solidarity with those most marginalized. Let us speak truth to power and demand justice. Let us speak often of our dissatisfaction with the status quo. Most Importantly, let is live each moment and every decision in opposition and resistance to the hegemonic dysfunction of hate that does so easily beset us.


Peace Is Possible,

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 


Works Cited

Dresser, Annetta Gertrude. 1895. The Philosophy of P.P. Quimby. Boston: The Builders Press.

Jr., Matin Luther King. 2015. The Radical King. Edited by Cornel West. Boston: Beacon Press.

King, Coretta Scott, ed. 1987. The Words of Martin Luther King Jr. New York: William Marrow.

Pearce, Joseph Chilton. 2002. The Biology of Transcendence: A Blueprint of the Human Spirit. Rochester: Park Street Press.

Thurman, Howard. 1976. Jesus and the Disinherited . Boston: Beacon Press.

West, Cornel. 2002. Prophsey Deliverance: An Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity . Louiseville: John Knox Press.

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Justice – A Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

The theme for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in 2019, “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue …” is inspired by Deuteronomy 16:18-20. In this era of political subterfuge marked by blatant lies and a complete lack of civility, there could not be a more important focus of prayer for the Christian tradition.  Justice and equality address the systemic provision for the distribution of goods, as well as the burdens, of a society. Addressing societal violations also falls into the realm of equality and justice.  Justice Image result for the week of prayer for christian unity 2019overarches legal right and condemns a legality that undermines fellowship or that fails to listen to the intrinsic claim to dignity and well-being that all humans possess (Farley 1990). Justice is always theo-political. The task of theology is to critique and revise the language of the church. This includes not only the language of uttered speech, but also the language of radical involvement in the world (Cone 1997). Theology is always political, and the realm of God in Christian theology demands conditions for human flourishing based in equal access to the resources of an opulent Universe. Politics is the ancient and honorable endeavor to create a community in which the weak, as well as the strong can flourish; where love and power can collaborate, and justice and mercy can have their day (Palmer 2011).

In our country, current systemic injustice is based on the American value gap.  In this context, the value gap means that no matter our stated principles or how much progress we think we have made, some people are valued more than others in this country (Glaude 2016).  Imperialist white supremacist heteropatriarchal norms have created an embedded caste system which is based on race politics, gender politImage result for the week of prayer for christian unity 2019ics, and socioeconomic politics. The theological voice of the church has far too often been used by those at the center of power to support this caste system and the time has come to reclaim our God-talk. Issues of institutional power and authority must not eclipse the love of justice in contemporary religious space, or the growing trend of those religious “none’s” and those who call themselves spiritual, but not religious, will make the institutional church completely culturally irrelevant.

There is a deep need for the church to embrace the prophetic tradition of speaking truth to power as directed by a God who demands justice; likewise, the church must embody Jesus’ instruction to take up the cross and follow Him.  That Jesus bodily committed acts of resistance against empire and systems of domination cannot be lost on the church as a part of the analysis of today’s cultural climate. Injustice, such as racism is a moral catastrophe, most graphically seen in the prison-industrial complex and the targeted police surveillance in Black and Brown ghettos that is rendered invisible in public Image result for justicediscourse must become a rally point of clergy in every pulpit in the nation (King 2015). Prophetic praxis must be the norm for purveyors and prognosticators of Gospel.  Prophetic praxis is behavior that engages counter-cultural practices on behalf of the least among us (Marsh 2005).  For the church, this praxis is rooted in the teaching of Jesus and an understanding of Jesus’ preference for the poor. Each parish must adopt an activist lens. Activism can be defined as organized and organic forms of resistance; That is, resistance is defined as the physical, overt expression of an inner attitude (Turman 2014).  The times we live in call for activism in response to the constant assault on human dignity coming from the highest places of political power.

If theologians and pastors alike wish for congregants, and the community at large, to take seriously issues of religious and social justice, they will have to consider that justice extends beyond race and poverty to all forms of oppression and domination. Together, the theological academy and the Church parish must realize their shared responsibility to the community. Both have an ontological mandate to be good news, a kerygmatic mandate to preach good news, and, above all, a mandate of diaconia—to practice good news (Hopkins 2007).  This Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is an opportunity for the church to reclaim relevance in the public square. To find her prophetic voice. My prayer is that each of you seek to find the truth in your tradition and then have the courage to be true to the truth.

Peace Is Possible,

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 


Works Cited

Farley, Wendy. 1990. Tragic Vision and Divine Compassion: A Contemporary Theodicy. Louisville: John Knox Publishing.

Glaude, Eddie S. 2016. Democracy In Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul. New York: Crown Publishers.

Hopkins, Dwight N. 2007. Black Faith and Public Talk. Waco: Baylor University Press.

King, Martin Luther. 2015. The Radical King. Edited by Cornel West. Boston: Beacon Press.

Marsh, Charles. 2005. The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice From the Civil Rights Movement to Today. New York: Basic Books.

Palmer, Parker J. 2011. Healing The Heart of Democracy. SanFrancisco: Jossey-Bass.

Turman, Eboni Marshall. 2014. “A Conversation With Dr. Eboni Marshall Turman.” New York: Union Theological Seminary, March 5.

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An Open Letter to Religious Leaders

Dear friends, we cannot be silent. Under the circumstances and conditions of this present plutocracy where imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy works to disinherit the majority, and the minority works to strengthen its socioeconomic domination, our silence makes us complicit in the most insidious evil. It is our task as religious leaders to comfort the discomforted and discomfort the comfortable. Not only must we speak truth to power, it is incumbent upon us to take prophetic action in solidarity with those who find themselves suffering as paImage result for religious leaderswns of political games played by malfeasant oligarchs. True solidarity with the oppressed means fighting at their side to transform the objective reality which has made them these “beings for another” (Freire 2000).  We may have to leave our pulpits ready to engage a life of public witness and faith that calls for a new self-understanding, one that sees theology and the theologian who produces it as an integrated whole. We may no longer pontificate moral virtues we are unwilling to engage and we must hold our elected officials to the standards we so aptly teach to our parishioners.

Image result for female religious leadersOur nation is in desperate need of courageous leadership. Leadership that takes seriously their own social location as a formative home from which to develop a public faith (Bond 2013). Whatever class or socioeconomic reality a leader arises from, we must engage critical self-critique so that our analysis of the world around us is informed by an awareness of our privileges and marginalization in conversation with the highest aims of the sacred text. Theologies develop in response to questions arising out of specific intellectual, political, and religious situations; therefore, our God talk must be in this era must be subversive, transgressive, and rooted in the best of our prophetic traditions. Theologies are always about power. Our new discourse must challenge the hegemony of power – the distribution and economy of this power in Heaven and on earth (Cone 2018).

We must speak freely of and work feverishly toward, a world of radical love in a climate of radical xenophobia fueled by fear mongers who traffic in hate speech. For me, as a Christian religious leader, radical love is at the heart of Christian theology because we believe in God who, through the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ has dissolved the boundaries between death and life,Image result for queer religious leaders time and eternity, and the human and the divine (Cheng 2011).  The naming of the world which is an act of creation and re-creation, is not possible if it is not infused with love (Freire 2000).  It is our task to name the world anew; that is the prophetic call of leadership. We are charged to paint for the world a picture of a preferable future. If we are to be at all relevant in the world that seeks to build walls, then we must return to love as the central hallmark of our various faiths. If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving (Baldwin 1993). If God and our God talk fails to do this, the world will get rid of us and the God we have made. We must speak directly to leaders who lie about national crisis, which in reality are humanitarian crisis, and call them to repentance. Holding accountable the wicked who dare to turn righteousness into scandal is a revolutionary act of love.

Religious leaders must demand of ourselves to be helpers in new and life-giving ways. Authentic help means that all who are involved help each other mutually, growing together in common effort to understand the reality they seek to transform (hooks 1994).  I urge you dear friends to entreat your community as a cite (read as a place of citation) of transformation. Let the sacred text and the collective experience of the people merge in order to transform you into the leader they need for forward movement.  The hour of the sage on the stage is over. We are no longer filling empty heads with pietistic words, rather we are engaging communities of critical thinkers in resistance discourse with the goal of changing the world.  Something new is being required of us. My prayer for you is that you find your courage to speak in new tongues.

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Peace Is Possible,

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 


Works Cited

Baldwin, James. 1993. The Fire Next Time. New York: Vintage International .

Bond, Adam L. 2013. The Imposing Preacher: Samual DeWitt Proctor & Black Public Faith . Minneapolis: Frotress Press .

Cheng, Patrick S. 2011. An Introduction to Queer Theology: Radical Love. New York : Seabury Books.

Cone, James H. 2018. Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody. Maryknoll: Orbis.

Freire, Paulo. 2000. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Bloomsbury.

hooks, bell. 1994. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge.


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