Martin Luther King Jr. denounced the "giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism." On the day set aside to remember his life and work, it is appropriate to reflect on his prophetic message. At a time when so many seek to domesticate his message, we need to recall that it was for more encompassing than the opening of public accommodations to people regardless of the color of their skin or their national origin. In its breadth, it reminds us of the scope of the prophets of the Bible, in whose tradition King followed.
The USA has made progress against the evil of racism since my childhood. I married someone in a state where not many years before the difference in our ethnic heritages would have made that illegal. I live in a very mixed neighborhood. My colleagues at work are of different hues and different national origins. When I eat out, usually those at the tables around me are ethnically diverse. I appreciate that. But I am also aware that the pernicious effects of our country's heritage of slavery, genocide and ethnic oppression persist and continue to poison our society in many ways. We must continue the struggle against racism.
Materialism seems as ascendant today as it was before King was murdered. It continues to skew priorities in a very different direction than virtually any of the different faiths to which most Americans claim to adhere call upon us. This evil is insidious, permeating the whole culture of our country. We must work against this pernicious evil in our personal, faith community and societal lives.
It is also hard to see much progress against militarism. King noted that the United States "is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today." This is no less true now than it was when King spoke of it. The American military consumes more resources than that of all the other major powers combined. Over half of the relatively controllable portion of the U.S. budget goes to wars and preparations for wars. And dissent to our country's militarism seems to be less today than in King's day. The United States Senate late last year voted unanimously for the bloated military budget. There are those who are still faithful in opposing this devotion to the way of death. The Friends Committee on National Legislation activated its action network against the military budget. But even many of its traditional allies were silent. For example, the Christian activist group Sojourners had a campaign on the budget which uttered not a word on the theft from human needs represented by the huge military budget. Many oppose the Iraq War, but few broaden that to opposing the war system itself.
The prophetic words of King continue to ring true today. King's dream is far from being realized. We need to redouble our commitment to living the dream in our personal lives and calling upon our society to heed the truths he spoke.