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Monday, January 18, 2016

Learning the "Politics" of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“I don’t think the Republican party is a party full of the almighty God nor is the Democratic party. They both have weaknesses … And I’m not inextricably bound to either party."

(Martin Luther King, Jr. quote from David A. Love. 
"Can any political party claim Martin Luther King?")

This Martin Luther King Jr. Day the partisan stance of lawmakers makes one wonder if our country has learned much of anything about human understanding as politicians stubbornly adhere to political prejudices that cripple the actions of government. What kind of politics did Dr. King, the strong activist and civil rights leader, practice as he became one of the greatest world figures ever known?

Of course, both parties stake claim to Martin Luther King Jr. as they often allude to his words and actions while bolstering support for their particular platforms. But, in reality, he most often did not identify with one particular political party during his life. Dr. King steadfastly focused on issues rather than on electoral politics.

Taylor Branch, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning work on the King years may be the most exhaustive research conducted on the civil rights leader, maintains King was nonpartisan. King himself never expressed an affiliation with, nor endorsed candidates for, any political party.

In his own words, King said ...

“Actually, the Negro has been betrayed by both the Republican and the Democratic party. The Democrats have betrayed him by capitulating to the whims and caprices of the Southern Dixiecrats. The Republicans have betrayed him by capitulating to the blatant hypocrisy of reactionary right wing northern Republicans. And this coalition of southern Dixiecrats and right wing reactionary northern Republicans defeats every bill and every move towards liberal legislation in the area of civil rights.”

(The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr: Symbol of the Movement.
January 1957- December 1958.)

David A. Love, writer and human rights advocate, says King was a pragmatist. For example, he voted for President Kennedy while not publicly endorsing him. Yet, he often criticized both parties for using blacks as a “political football,” while keeping a watchful eye on candidates and their civil rights stances.

Again, in his own words, King explained ...

“I feel someone must remain in the position of non-alignment, so that he can look objectively at both parties and be the conscience of both -- not the servant or master of either."

(David A. Love. "Can any political party claim Martin Luther King?" August 27, 2013.)

Byron Williams, one of the leading public theologians in the nation, says "the closest King came to an endorsement was his lack of such for 1964 GOP presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. Goldwater, as a senator, failed to support the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Ironically, Lyndon Johnson, who unquestionably did more to aid the civil rights cause than anyone who occupied the White House, perhaps received some of King's harshest criticism in opposing the war in Vietnam."

(Byron Williams. "Martin Luther King Jr.'s Legacy Transcends Political Labels."
Huffington Post. September 28, 2006.)

The historical record is very clear that Dr. King did not want to be identified as a partisan of any political party. Instead, he was committed to challenging injustice, and this made him an independent activist who fought inequality in both parties. King was strongly driven by a moral conscience that was affirmed growing up in the historical black church and by his deeply held beliefs in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

This year, in the midst of the vitriol politics of the Republicans and the Democrats, America must vote for candidates who, like Martin Luther King, will work toward nonpartisan compromise and toward finding effective solutions to our nation's problems. Most people are tired of bickering, backbiting, and gridlock.

In the face of violent injustice, Dr. King set forth a vision of justice and love that was radical for his day. He taught us that justice and love go together. We often think that these two concepts are opposed to one another. Yet, there is a tension between justice and love that must exist. And today, we still struggle with forging a unification that allows love and justice to coexist.

Adam Ericksen, Education Director for The Raven Foundation, says, "For him (King), God’s justice, true justice, didn’t mean punishing enemies. Rather, justice for him as he followed Jesus, was about reconciliation. Today we call it 'restorative justice.' It’s a justice that restores individuals to themselves and it restores our relationships with one another. King wanted the persecuted and the persecutor to find healing. When we live into this justice that seeks restoration, healing, and reconciliation, King said that we live into the 'Beloved Community.'"

 (Adam Ericksen. "Martin Luther King, Jr. – Justice, Love, and the New Jim Crow." January 18, 2016.)

I think the political process has turned into a partisan circus that opposes restorative justice, preferring instead to instill strong division that raises party allegiance above social imperatives. Without an honest reconciliation in the name of progress, we will continue to find rife injustice and inequality in Washington, D.C. America is begging government to stop the hatred and bond together to fight present-day inequalities.

Today, we honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and we give thanks to him for leading us into a new vision of unification. His lessons still reverberate ... perhaps some louder than ever.

"Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man's sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true."

--Martin Luther King Jr.

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