What would Martin Luther King do? (W.W.M.L.K.D.) That is the question many are addressing this week as we commemorate his birth. Disparate interest groups are claiming that, were he alive today, he would support their cause. The most outlandish claim I’ve head comes from Larry Ward, the Chairman of Gun Appreciation Day, who said last week:
“I believe that Gun Appreciation Day honors the legacy of Dr. King…The truth is I think Martin Luther King would agree with me, if he were alive today, that if African Americans had been given the right to keep and bear arms from day one of the country’s founding, perhaps slavery might not have been a chapter in our history.”
Um, yeah, right. And I hear that the Wicked Witch of the East adores “Houses that Fall From the Sky” Appreciation Day.
What would Dr. King be doing today? Fighting for the marginalized, the poor, the disenfranchised, and the oppressed. Moreover, he would be fighting for human souls with the power of love. For Dr. King, that love was not a touchy-feely emotion. It was a commitment to bring out the best in humanity, even when humans responded to that call with their smallest, cruelest, fear-based hatred or apathy. The love he proclaimed held justice in one hand and compassionate endurance in the other.
While most reference Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech as the zenith of his oratory, I am most drawn to a sermon he delivered shortly before his assassination. Here is an excerpt from “A Christmas Sermon on Peace” delivered in December 1967:
“I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow we must be able to stand up before our most bitter opponents and say: ‘We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws and abide by the unjust system, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good, and so throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half-dead as you beat us, and we will still love you. Send your propaganda agents around the country, and make it appear that we are not fit, culturally and otherwise, for integration, and we’ll still love you. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.’”
What would Martin Luther King do? I don’t know, but I doubt he’d be clutching an AK-47 to promote nonviolence. The better question is: what will you and I do here and now? Dr. King is not alive, but we are. We are today’s “soul force”. We can embody his vision of a love that is both compassionate and just, that longs for the liberation of both the oppressed and the oppressor. What is one concrete way that you can wear down an injustice with your love and win a “double victory”? What will you do?