Fifty years beyond the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., America is in stage four denial.
“I Have a Dream . . . Nightmare.”
“I Have a Dream!” Such pathos and poetry! Such eloquent inflections! Such skillful blending of patriotic themes that celebrate the past and provide hope for the future!
Why would anyone kill a man over a dream like that? Or, was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s demise due to the nightmare he shared in a May 8, 1967 NBC interview?
“I must confess that dream I had that day has in many points turned into a nightmare. . . Some of the old optimism was a little superficial and now it must be tempered with a solid realism.”
What realities were tempering King’s optimism? How did the dream devolve into a nightmare in 3 ½ years? And what led 72% of whites and 55% of blacks to view him unfavorably by the end of his life?
Can I Get a Second Opinion? Yeah, you’re ugly too.
On April 4, 1967, Dr. King diagnosed America with three interrelated, terminal diseases: racism, extreme materialism, and militarism. His speech, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” argued that the war in Vietnam had undermined the War on Poverty, and subverted the nonviolent means of problem solving he had been advocating for a dozen years. One of the most shocking soundbites the audience of 3,000 took home that day was when King described the U.S. government as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”
That exercise of dissident patriotism at the Riverside Church in New York doesn’t get much attention today. However, the nation whose soul he sought to save took its diagnosis very hard and even exhibited some common grief symptoms: shock, denial, and anger. Many civil rights advocates abandoned him. President Lyndon Johnson reportedly called him that “g-dd–n ni**er preacher,” and over 100 newspapers published scathing rebukes of their formerly preferred civil rights spokesperson. It is truly a sick person that seeks remedy through killing his physician, but that’s what Uncle Sam did one year later. To. The. Day.
Are the triplets still alive?
So where are we 50 years after the death of King? Especially given how modern public opinion polls have virtually granted him sainthood? Is American approval of him due to the nation having achieved the dream? Or is it because we have “sterilized,” “deodorized,” and as Cornel West terms in Black Prophetic Fire, “Santaclausified,” Dr. King by burying his diagnosis along with his body? Are “the giant triplets” (as he referred to them) of racism, materialism, and militarism still stalking the globe?
Militarism? The U.S. has spent over $4 trillion on Post-911 wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Pakistan. Most of the monetary costs for the conflicts have been financed by debt. The debt alone is scheduled to reach $7.9 trillion by 2053.
What about the human cost? Approximately 2.7 million U.S. service members have served in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan conflicts since 2001, leaving nearly 7,000 dead. Additionally, 970,000 of those veterans have an officially recognized disability. As tragic as those numbers are, they are dwarfed by the 218,000 dead civilians; over 81,000 wounded civilians; along with 10.1 million refugees and internally displaced civilians of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. Do we really want to see what that looks like? Maybe we should all have to see it, feel it—so we can stop it.
The military-industrial complex: In addition to U.S. military presence in countries with major conflicts, there are presently 686 American bases in 74 foreign countries. America accounts for 36% of the world’s military spending. The U.S. military annually outspends the next 8 countries (including China and Russia) combined. Doesn’t seem like we’ve taken President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s warning about the military-industrial complex seriously, let alone the more radical demands of Dr. King.
What about racism and economic exploitation? We could investigate the militarized police use of attack dogs, water cannons, sonic cannons, tear gas, and other brutal tactics against Native Americans in North Dakota—because of oil. We could expose the resegregation of schools and gentrification of communities. We could examine the disparities in our criminal justice system with its Wall Street traded, privatized prisons. We could explore the sophisticated means of syphoning money from urban public schools to fund suburban, private schools. We can continue to shake our heads that Arizona’s concentration camp commandant, Joe Arpaio, got pardoned despite his contempt for humanity and the rule of law. We could catalog the list of insults toward the first black president—including the ascent of his successor, whose political career was founded on “birtherism.” Or we could just renew W.E.B. Dubois’s statement to say that the problem of the twenty-first century is still the problem of the color line.
Are the triplets invincible?
The triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are about to meet their match. Revelation 14:6-12 depicts three angels screaming through mid-air on a collision course with the triplets. Their message is diametrically opposed to racism and brings good news to the disinherited. They remind us that as children of the Creator, we are sisters and brothers who must resist any nationalistic fervor that degrades the human family. These triplet slayers announce that The Judgment has begun and this Judge shows no partiality, regardless of any individual’s or nation’s exceptionalism. Your only hope is to meet Him at the foot of the cross for a plea deal.
Another angel in Revelation 18 adds his force to the chapter 14 trio, and is more explicit about the dramatic fall of Babylon’s worldwide reach. She’ll be forced to drink a figurative cup of the wrath of God—double strength. All the misery caused through materialism and militarism, so the privileged can bask in luxury on the backs of the masses, will be her double portion. No ice. No lemon. No chaser. Nobody does payback like God.
So where do we go from here?
Join the spirit of prophetic resistance—break silence when the image of God is being desecrated by the inhuman treatment of one group to another. Pray that God will transform your life into a sample of the coming Kingdom. Be the change you want to see. Break the cycle of consumerism in your own life: stop buying things you don’t need to impress people who don’t like you with money you don’t have. Seek to share, serve, recycle. Remember that if God is for you, no one can prevail against you. The promise is, “He who is within you is greater than he that is in the world.” The question is, have you invited the Spirit of God to abide within you?
Thank you very much, Malcolm, for powerfully connecting issues in the USA and MLK with the Three Angels’ Messages.