Race relations in many of our cities may be their poorest since the late 1960's, but today we celebrate the courage of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who dedicated his life to restoring racial equality under the law. Dr. King, who navigated an even tougher political environment, invested much of his life to restore the basic dignity of black men and women systematically deprived of things most take for granted today.
King denounced violence and extremism and he opposed those inside the civil rights movement who stoked the flames of hatred and promoted racial separatism. As a pastor he pinpointed the problem of his time. He told an audience in a Detroit church in 1954, “there is something wrong with our world, something fundamentally and basically wrong. The great problem facing modern man is that . . . the means by which we live have outdistanced the spiritual ends for which we live. . . . The problem is with man himself and man’s soul.”
We don't talk much about our souls in our secular world where every physical need and pleasure seems to be met in an instant. Spiritual ends? The problem is with man himself? Such talk is often sanitized and overlooked in an age that celebrates the results of King's ideals without considering the root that made it flourish. We forget that Dr. King was a pastor with deep Christian convictions before he became a civil rights leader.
King saw widespread injustice and his soul was stirred to confront it. And like a modern day Moses he fought against long odds of systemic and institutional racism to lead his people to the "promised land" of equal opportunity and fair treatment under the law. King once told a group in Montgomery, Alabama in 1957 “Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'" It's a timeless challenge to each of us.
The impetus that led King to oppose racial injustice is identical to those involved in the civil rights battle of the last 40 years, otherwise known as the pro-life movement. The impetus is based on the idea that every human being is made in the image of God and endowed with dignity. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," King said in his Letter from Birmingham Jail. " We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
There is still injustice towards the black community today and hence the work for reconciliation and equal treatment continues. But can it ever be successful so long as other closely related injustices are allowed?
The new civil rights movement is not over who has the right to drink from the same water fountains or eat at the same diners as the majority population. It's not even over the right to vote. It's over whether one human being has the right to deprive another human being of life. The right to life is a human rights issue. And this right, which precedes civil rights, has disproportionately affected the black community. Minority women constitute only about 13 percent of the female population (age 15-44) but comprise more than one-third of all abortions.
It is estimated that more than 16 million black babies have been aborted since 1973. Who knows how many Michael Jordans, Colin Powells, or Condoleezza Rices were in that number. Maybe there was another Martin Luther King Jr. for our day.
A week from this Saturday, hundreds of thousands are expected to march on Washington D.C. in one of the most underreported annual events by the institutional media. But so long as the injustice continues, so long as media turn a blind eye to what goes on behind the curtain and shut out the cries of those protesting, the struggle fueled by King's ideals, will continue.