Today is the 40th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Those of us who are old enough probably remember that day. At the time, I was a student at Wilmington College, a college that was integrated since its founding in 1870 and, at the time I was a student, one of the most integrated campuses in the country.
That evening, on hearing the sad news, students spontaneously flocked to Thomas R. Kelly Religious Center on campus. It was locked, but we were able to find someone to unlock it so that we could share a time of quiet prayer and reflection together.
Towards the end of his life, Dr. King was repeatedly identifying racism, materialism and militarism as the major evils of the time. He was criticized for having a broader outlook than many thought appropriate for a civil rights leader, but he refused to be intimidated and insisted that these issues are interrelated. As a prophetic minister of the Gospel, he felt the call to identify our corporate sins and call us to repentance - to turn from our evil ways towards the shalom of God. He continued to speak out on all these issues until the assassin's bullet stilled his voice.
Four decades later, what do we see when we ponder where we've comes as a society on these critical issues?
Racism. This is an area where there are some visible signs of progress. It has become common to see African-Americans and other minorities in key positions of political power, and it looks likely that an African-American will be nominated by a major party for President this year. Young people are much more likely to have friends with different ethnic backgrounds than was true of their parents' and grandparents' generations. Many of the more obvious and glaring signs of racism are no longer much in evidence.
Seeing these signs, many white Americans mistakenly assume that racism is no longer a problem, at least not a serious one, and seek to dismantle affirmative action programs. But if you look deeper, you can see many indications that racism is still a virulent cancer affecting our society. Social and economic indicators show African-Americans and Hispanics with strikingly poorer prospects than whites. Racial profiling remains a big problem. Truly ethnically diverse public schools are less common today than decades ago. We have much to do to address the legacy of centuries of slavery and acute racism.
Materialism. Dr. King recognized that the greed of materialism led to many being mired in poverty. Today our society remains gripped by consumerism and the seductive call to get enough for our greed, not just our need. The economic divide has actually been growing in recent years. The rich are getting a lot richer, while the poor remain mired in poverty. America is very wealthy, but we remain well behind most other affluent nations on key indicators of social health stemming from our failure to include everyone in the benefits of our wealth as a nation.
Militarism. This I address in my other anniversary blog entry today. Suffice it to say here that our country is addicted to military might at the expense of our own well-being and that of the whole world.
It is incumbent upon us to keep the dream alive. We need to make our own lives examples of living the values of the Biblical vision of Shalom, and seek to understand where we need to make prophetic witness to the larger society.
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