Saturday, March 13, 2010

MLK, Jr., Dorothy Day & Glenn Beck

I'm visiting one of my daughters, Becca, in Atlanta. Today we visited the Martin Luther King Jr. Center. It was an inspiring reminder of King's life and teaching. It was also a disturbing reminder of just how recently the most blatant social injustices of racism were common in many parts of the USA. It was also an uncomfortable reminder that racism and other injustices and inequalities persist.

From the King Center, Becca took me to the Open Door, a Catholic Worker community where she and another medical student volunteer once a week to manage a clinic for the homeless. Of course I was moved deeply with paternal pride at seeing this aspect of my daughter's life. I was also reminded of the founder of the Catholic Worker movement, Dorothy Day, whose life and teaching are as inspirational as are King's. And, again, I remembered that the peace and justice to which she bore witness remain counter-cultural and elusive.

I appreciate both of these faithful witnesses to the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are those, most recently and notoriously, Glenn Beck, who want to segregate the call to personal conversion and righteousness from the call to social conversion and justice. But that segregation is a distortion of the gospel that Jesus actually proclaimed. And it is not a segregation that has been recognized by the great teachers and saints of the Church. It is also beyond doubt that without the proclamation of this "social" aspect of the gospel by folk like King, the injustices of Jim Crow would have endured. I wonder what Glenn Beck would have been saying about that if he had been broadcasting his nonsense in the late 1950's and early 60's?

Faithful Christians can and do disagree on particulars of Church and public policy when it comes to bearing witness to, and seeking to achieve, greater justice in the world. But, there is no escaping the necessity of measuring our personal and social lives and policies against the needs of "the least of these." Jesus himself said that our salvation just might depend upon it.

While neither King nor Day are official saints (the latter famously declaring she did not want to be dismissed so easily), they both rank among the great Christian teachers and exemplars of the last century. Thankfully, neither of them misunderstood the gospel the way Glenn Beck misunderstands and misrepresnts it. I am grateful to have been reminded today of their witness.

Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.
— Martin Luther King, Jr.

What we would like to do is change the world--make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God intended them to do. And, by fighting for better conditions, by crying out unceasingly for the rights of the workers, the poor, of the destitute--the rights of the worthy and the unworthy poor, in other words--we can, to a certain extent, change the world; we can work for the oasis, the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world. We can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its ever widening circle will reach around the world. We repeat, there is nothing we can do but love, and, dear God, please enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy as our friend. — Dorothy Day

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