First of all, Tea Party, welcome to DC! Thanks for choosing the anniversary of MLK’s “I Have a Dream Speech” to celebrate your divisive version of politics on our National Mall (and even more appropriately, in front of the memorial for the President who ended slavery).
Your fearless leader, Glenn Beck, is holding this rally with the message of “Restoring Honor.” This message is well and good, ostensibly non-partisan. However, there are a few things you might want to know about Mr. Beck. Before I talk about these, I’m sure that many of you consider Martin Luther King Jr. to be at least something of a hero, as his fight for civil rights fits in with your stated goals of liberty. However, you should know that King’s speeches were not limited to his “Dream” speech- he talked about a lot more than race. In fact, his son did an excellent job explaining this in a recent op-ed:
He did, however, wholeheartedly embrace the “social gospel.” His spiritual and intellectual mentors included the great theologians of the social gospel Walter Rauschenbush and Howard Thurman. He said that any religion that is not concerned about the poor and disadvantaged, “the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them[,] is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial.” In his “Dream” speech, my father paraphrased the prophet Amos, saying, “We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
The title of the 1963 demonstration, “The Great March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” reflected his belief that the right to sit at a lunch counter would be hollow if African Americans could not afford the meal. The need for jobs and shared economic prosperity remains as urgent and compelling as it was 47 years ago. My father’s vision would include putting millions of unemployed Americans to work, rebuilding our tattered infrastructure and reforms to reduce pollution and better care for the environment.
Ah, yes, that “other” part of King’s message. Social justice can be a polarizing concept- it forces us to realize the inequities in our society, and the vast changes needed to address them. However, as King often pointed out, and as his son reprises here, civil rights are sort of hollow without social and economic justice.
This concept of social justice brings me back to your fearless mouthpiece, Mr. Beck. Back in March, he had some harsh words for those who preach the social gospel:
I beg you, look for the words “social justice” or “economic justice” on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes! If I’m going to Jeremiah’s Wright’s church? Yes! Leave your church. Social justice and economic justice. They are code words. If you have a priest that is pushing social justice, go find another parish. Go alert your bishop and tell them, “Excuse me are you down with this whole social justice thing?” I don’t care what the church is. If it’s my church, I’m alerting the church authorities: “Excuse me, what’s this social justice thing?” And if they say, “Yeah, we’re all in that social justice thing,” I’m in the wrong place.
Now, let’s leave aside the fact that Mr. Beck’s religion, Mormonism, values social justice and has repudiated these comments. Let’s think for a second about what “running from social justice” really means. Again, I find myself unqualified to speak, but thankfully, my pastor, Reverend Karen Brau, is more than qualified. A little context for this short sermon: that particular day in church, we had done a social justice-themed Stations of the Cross, and this included hearing testimonies of three homeless women from N Street Village, a homeless organization connected to my church- these are the women that Rev. Brau mentions toward the end of her sermon. I urge you to go listen here to a 4 minute clip (starts at the 22 minute mark). Here are the key points:
Running from social justice means running from specific things. Running from social justice means running from specific people. You take the prophetic out of religion and you’re running from Moses. You take the “walking humbly” out of religion and you’re running from Micah. You take the feeding, clothing, sheltering, radical hospitality incarnational love in action out of religion, and you’re running from Jesus.
Now, this message is obviously targetted at Christians, people who value Moses, Micah, and Jesus. However, it need not be limited to that:
You take the real life struggle of economically poor women, who have been formerly homeless, who are in recovery, out of religion, and you are running from Cheryl Barnes, Renee Mary Virginia, and Diane Curry.
So, Tea Partiers, I hope you’ll take a reflective stance when attending your rally tomorrow afternoon. I hope that you’ll be thinking of the “Dream” speech to begin with, but more than that, I hope you’ll realize what King’s vision for social justice was. I hope you’ll realize the Christian faith that many of you confess affirms that vision, and that running from social justice is dissonant with that faith. As Rev. Brau said,
You take the social justice out of religion and it might smell sweet, but it’s spiritually stale and stuck.