A few days ago, a reporter asked what I believe Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have thought regarding a recent local issue. I have heard various people ask that question, “If Dr. King was living today, what would he have thought about…?”
Although we have some general ideas about what Dr. King would have thought about certain topics and issues, we cannot fully conclude what he would have thought about every issue, especially current issues. People evolve in their thoughts and opinions, beliefs and values as they grow and develop. When they die, what they have said and written are the texts that we attempt to interpret in contemporary times. We even do that with the Gospel of Jesus Christ around controversial topics such as same sex unions, euthanasia, political candidates, etc.
This past week, we have seen a daughter of Birmingham, Professor Angela Davis, highlighted in recent decisions made by a respected institution in our community. They have the right to “govern” that institution as they choose. However, in the decision that was made to rescind an invitation to Prof. Davis to receive an award that honors the life of the late Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, it mitigated one of the guiding principles of the United States, freedom of speech; freedom of thought; freedom to criticize a government, including a foreign government for practices deemed questionable.
Prof. Davis’ life has been a public viewing for many years. She has published more than ten books, professional essays in academic journals, taught at prestigious universities, spoken across the globe, and been interviewed by many respected journalists. Although not everyone agrees with her opinions, they are opinions and deserve a hearing.
Even Dr. King was deemed by some to be too radical and was not well respected or accepted in certain circles. Not every African American congregation in Birmingham responded to the invitation to become involved in the 1963 campaign. He was labeled a communist, conspired against by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, arrested many times for speaking against Jim Crow principles that forced African Americans to “stay in their place.” His position on the Viet Nam war and the criticism of the economic abuse of American capitalism attributed to King being assassinated.
Despite all those attitudes, Dr. King continues to be regarded as a noble statesman and the only African American to have a national holiday in his honor. Often the martyr becomes more powerful in death than in life. Even Jesus warned His detractors not to kill Him. In John 2.9, Jesus told them that if the temple, referring to His life, was destroyed, it would be raised in three days.
In the next few days, we will remember and celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. Next month, we will welcome home a daughter of Birmingham’s soil and celebrate her contributions to humanity. Amen.