I realized this week that I am a Baptist because of Martin Luther King, Jr. He and his wife, Corretta Scott King, are two of the greatest prophets America has ever had. I became a Baptist two years ago in a state of mourning, and now my heart is filled with joy. But this does not mean I am content to live in my happy bubble while other people continue to suffer.
I will admit I started out as a person who loved to find her favorite Martin Luther King quote and post it each year on this day. While there is nothing inherently wrong with that, it reduces him to a bunch of quotes versus a way of life. Dr. Freddy Haynes, III said in King’s death we froze him as a dreamer. He was more than a dreamer; he was a drum major for justice. This is truth. Freddy’s son said Martin Luther King Jr. made people uncomfortable, and when asked to scale it back – even by his own people- he was undeterred. He wasn’t someone who was maintaining the temperature, he was setting the thermostat. That is a word!
Here is what starting out finding quotes did for me though, I started going deeper each year. I wanted to find quotes no one had heard before because they were getting whitewashed and losing the power those words actually held. In doing this, I started finding out more about his life and I wanted to be like him. I was tired of just the words. I wanted to live those words. These are words of fire- and not to make us comfortable-they make us alive.
I did not know how to get there in the life I was currently living. I tried to support causes that elevated his work, and I did not take the day off as a leisure day to avoid the work he started. But I never knew the reason I was unable to go further is because the bubble I was living in wouldn’t let me go where I wanted to go. So I felt stuck and stayed where I was anyway – until I couldn’t.
2015/16 are pivotal years that changed me forever. There have been moments that I knew life would never be the same – 9/11 being one of them, but 2015/16 was something more. I found myself trying to tell people about a sexual predator (a child predator, no less) and finding myself in conversations of lets agree to disagree over a child predator. Never mind we knew they guy and love him-we still do. But, there are boundaries that have to be set up to protect ourselves and our children. Our hearts were broken and no one cared.
People aren’t leaving church because they aren’t entertained. They are leaving because the theology we have been handed has been a theology of terror.
Trump was now a viable candidate and it was beyond my imagination how my world was justifying this man. What he said about Mexicans, his rally where he called Colin Kaepernick an SOB, made fun a disabled reporter, has raped and violated women with his actions and words, DACA, the border crisis, and the list goes on.
I was so lost and depressed. The silence from church on sexual violence broke my heart in ways that I don’t know will every heal completely. I know now that is ok, because even when Jesus was resurrected-he still bore the scars. But now these scars have turned into a way of life for me. A way into deeper living and learning how to love even when that love is not returned. I have found the people who love me back, and are helping me become who I was born to be that was denied me previously because I am a woman. How did this happen? Martin Luther King, Jr.
When I heard the silence regarding women from church, I finally could hear much more clearly than I did before the voices my brothers and sisters of color have been telling me for years regarding racism. It is one thing to know racism exists and contribute to causes to raise awareness (and share quotes); it is another to join in solidarity together and work to end it. I don’t like using the term people of color, but so many groups of people are represented- Latino/a, Native Americans, black lives, poor people (who tend to be people of color, but there are a lot of poor white people, and King was marching with them when he was murdered by white supremacy).
My husband is Native American, and his family was colonized by this nation. I am studying and working on decolonializing myself and decolonizing his family. Hard truths have been discovered like Abraham Lincoln being the worst friend to Native Americans. What he has done to the Dakota Indians cost more lives than any other US President. And Andrew Jackson was the absolute cruelest with the Trail of Tears (Indian Removal) and was a slaveowner. Our cotton fields were lands stolen from Native Americans. I have pictures of me as a little one in the fields of cotton that I have always thought were cute. I had no idea. But my grandpa was a poor white farmer with no agency of his own to know either. This is what happens when we are educating people with only one point of view. Power used for evil needs this to thrive.
When I came to Wilshire Baptist Church, desperate to find a church that knew this world existed and needed help, I heard Reverend Barber was coming to town for MLK Jr weekend. It was only a few weeks away. The Shabbat I attended where several other faiths were represented (and I heard reading from their Scripture), people from all nations (and we are all Americans too), all sexual identities and orientations, disabled people (including Reverend Barber!), etc. is the most powerful moment of my life. This is the spirit of King that we not only celebrate, but continue his work that is not finished. This is the moment I knew I had found my home in a Baptist Church, but not an exclusive Baptist Church. A Baptist Church that joins the story of the world – like King. (it is not accident his last name is King; a different kind of King)
Reverend Barber has brought back the Poor People’s Campaign: https://www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/.
Because of King my life has gone into territory I never knew I could go. I don’t take this lightly. In Washington DC at the Alliance of Baptists Conference we repented of our sins for what done to Native Americans, and that our country was built on the labor of black bodies in slavery. Here are the statements.
What I am trying to say is every event I have attended that has been full of diversity have been the most powerful experiences of my life. I have lost nothing joining the family story; I have gained everything. Now I am in seminary learning from professors from all over the world, and Scripture is so much richer to me because of it. They love and value me too. I think about the words of Amos when he pleads with Israel: Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the LORD God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph. (5:15) We can turn this around America. We also need to change our language that has been male-dominated. Scripture is not inerrant in the sense that everything written is exactly right. It is powerful because faithful people wrote in their time and place with the Empire on their necks trying to figure out where God is and what went wrong. The story isn’t over.
Here is a quote for this year, and that I will spend my life working to make the dream a reality:
“When we look at modern man, we have to face the fact…that modern man suffers from a kind of poverty of the spirit, which stands in glaring contrast to his scientific and technological abundance; We’ve learned to fly the air like birds, we’ve learned to swim the seas like fish, and yet we haven’t learned to walk the Earth as brothers and sisters…”