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Monday, January 20, 2014

Dr. King’s Beloved Community Is Incomplete

As we celebrate the life of one of America's most important figures today, it is incumbent upon us to honor not only the achievements of the man, but also the vision he set before us. The question we need to ask ourselves is this: Are we living into the world Dr. King had in mind and even gave his life to make possible?

The centerpiece of his vision he called the Beloved Community. It's not a stretch to compare it with Jesus' notion of the Kingdom of God, as both call for a community in which each participant lives for the well-being of the others. It is a community that has only one guiding rule, the Golden Rule, and one pursuit, love in action. In his most famous speech, "I Have a Dream," Dr. King set out to close the gap between our rhetoric and our deeds. He said, “I say to you my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream.  It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal.”

Those of us who honor Dr. King and hold out the hope for one day realizing his dream surely recognize that the gap between America's words and deeds is yet to be closed. Although racism is still a factor in America, it is no longer privileged in polite society. Homophobia, on the other hand is, in the words of Harvard's Byrne Fone, "The last respectable bigotry in America."

Coretta Scott King, the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., often said that, were he alive today, Dr. King would be working for LGBT equality. I personally heard her say much the same thing during a fund raising event in San Francisco shortly before she died. This begs a very fundamental question: How could she be so sure?

Let’s face it; the African American community lags way behind the rest of America in support of LGBT equality. Even though most of black clergy are solidly behind the Civil Rights Movement, they oppose gay equality. However, many prominent African American leaders are on record supporting it, including the Reverends Jesse Jackson, and Al Sharpton, and Rep. John Lewis.

Although the 1950s and 60s were not brimming with gay rights issues, Dr. King’s most trusted confidant and strategic thinker, Bayard Rustin, was gay, and this was known to King and his inner circle (to say nothing about J. Edgar Hoover and his smear campaign). It is inconceivable that he and Coretta did not have conversations about Bayard, and it is known that King felt his homosexuality should be a non-issue.

However, I believe Dr. King’s certain involvement in gay rights today was based solidly on bedrock beliefs he held which would have naturally led him to this position.

To begin with, Dr. King understood that oppression is oppression is oppression.  That is, all oppression is of one kind and needs to be opposed whenever and wherever it is found. It has always confounded me that black leaders who understand their own oppression aren’t able to transfer it to others who are oppressed. Some think that this is because they feel that focusing on other issues diffuse and diminish their struggle. Others, such as the African American author Keith Boykin in his “One More River to Cross,” points to the general homophobia in the black community. Dr. King did not make this mistake.

Dr. King was an early postmodernist. He understood that all things are connected and rise and fall together. This is seen in one of his most famous utterances: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” He further elaborated by saying,
It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated.  We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.   
Unless all things are connected to each other, this could not be true. It doesn't take much in the way of connecting the dots to go from civil rights to gay rights.

Mel White, the co-founder of Soulforce, who looks to Dr. King's nonviolent philosophy to guide his work, insists that the enemy of injustice is not a person or a people, but ignorance. That the dignity of those who would oppose justice for all people must be acknowledged and upheld at all times. You see, when you love your enemy, you no longer have an enemy.  Dr King said that the pursuit of justice "is reconciliation, the end is redemption, the end is the creation of the Beloved Community.  It is this type of spirit, and this type of love that can transform opposers into friend....It is this love that will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”

There is certainly much work yet to be done to complete Dr. King’s dream of the Beloved Community, and today should be a forthright call to remind ourselves of this. To ignore Dr. King’s commitment to removing all injustices, particularly the incomplete pursuit of gay rights, is not only to misunderstand that great man, but to dishonor his commitment of gaining justice for all.


Anonymous said...

Very well said Steve. Thank you for reminding me of the interconnectedness of all life, and the implications of anything I say or do. -Barry

Heidi Mann said...

"When you love your enemy, you no longer have an enemy." Indeed.

I, too, have often been perplexed about the seeming difficulty in the African American community to be more open to the LGBT community. Not to say SOME aren't open and accepting, but it surprises me, really, that ANY who have known oppression would be tolerant of oppression toward others.

At the same time, as a white person, I almost feel I don't have a right to raise the question. But it needs to be raised. Thank you for doing so.


Steve Kindle said...

I'm glad you "almost" feel that way.Race questions are always fraught with difficulties and hidden traps that can derail an otherwise perfectly fine line of inquiry. Fortunately, LGBTs have lived with my incomplete understandings, and the "T"s are most forgiving of unfortunate pronoun usage. I guess the bottom line is if those unlike yourself can see that you are, nevertheless, on their side, that makes up for many miscues.