Monday, January 21, 2013

A Time To Break Silence: The Radical Dr. King

Last week, as President Obama signed an executive order that placed a few much-needed restrictions on the purchasing, selling, and licensing of firearms. To add fuel to the fire, right-wing gun enthusiasts (much like the homophobic "lazy activism" offered by those in support of Chick-Fil-A) decided to get together for a "Gun Appreciation Day." When questioned whether it was appropriate on MLK Day weekend to host a celebration of the very type of weapon that murdered Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gun advocate Larry Ward had this to say: 

“I believe ‘Gun Appreciation Day’ honors the legacy of Dr. King...I think Martin Luther King, Jr. would agree with me, if he were alive today, that if African Americans had been given the right to keep and bear arms from day one of the country’s founding, perhaps slavery might not have been a chapter in our history,”

As you carefully calm yourself in an attempt not to have a stroke, please try, if you can, to set this buffoonery aside for a moment.

It is all too easy, as Dorothy Day once noted, to dismiss someone by making them a saint: revered by one and all, but in that reverence also deeply misunderstood. We have converted Dr. King's legacy into just another holiday that leaves us wondering why the mail didn't run today. When I was in junior high or early high school, I stumbled on a recording of Dr. King's speech, "Beyond Vietnam: A Time To Break Silence," and was left absolutely enthralled by the words of this Martin Luther King, Jr., that I had never heard before. Where was the guy they talked about in school all the time? The civil rights guy. Who is this man who has me on the edge of my seat as he vehemently cries out against the Vietnam War, against the economic policies of the wealthy elites, against the systems of social inequality that relegate minorities into ghettos and cut funding for those who need it most?

That's not the Dr. King I read about in school. I didn't even know he was a pastor until I was in college.

Don't get me wrong—though we have indeed come a long way in our pursuit of racial reconciliation, I am by no means saying that it is a completed journey. But what I am saying is that even Dr. King recognized, by the end of his life, that racial disharmony is a symptom of a much deeper, more malignant disease: social injustice. And this very injustice, which comes so often in the form of physical, social, and economic violence, is often perpetuated by "the greatest purveyor of violence of our time—[our] own government."


So I urge you to listen to this speech, Mr. Ward. Listen to it good and close all the way to the end, and if you are not weeping out of shame for our country as I was when I first heard this recording many years ago, if you are not encouraged by Dr. King's mighty call for nonviolent resistance, if you are not persuaded that Love is the only way to bring about peace and lasting change, and that not only would Dr. King have disagreed with your ridiculous statement but would very likely have openly decried what you advocate, then you were obviously not paying attention.

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