Carlyle Fielding Stewart III

Writings on Democracy, Social Justice, and Religion

What Martin Luther King Jr. Would Say Today

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Detroit West District M. L.King Jr., Celebration, January 8, 2005

“I will not listen to the music of your harps but let justice roll down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Amos 5:24

As we celebrate another birthday of one of America’s greatest prophets and freedom fighters, more than any time since his assassination, questions now arise about the social conditions and current state of freedom in post 911 America. Some people, it seems, have a vested interest in turning back the clock on human rights, democracy and human freedom in our land.

As we celebrate the life of one who gave his life for freedom, constantly replay his “I Have a Dream” speech, and ponder the magnitude of his contributions and those of countless people: black, white, young, old, male, female, Northerners, Southerners, Easterners and Westerners, Protestants, Catholics, atheists, agnostics, Jews, Gentiles, Muslims, and Hindus, rural and urban, formally educated and informally educated, blue collar, white collar and no collar, abled, disabled and differently abled who showed up and stood up; who marched, prayed, sang, sat in and protested for freedom, we wonder in 2006 what has become of his dream; we wonder if we are truly living up to that dream and we wonder what will become of his dream in our present nation and world. For some the dream is being thoroughly realized. For others, the dream has become a thorough going nightmare.

The beauty of these annual celebrations is that we can pause to remember the life and legacy of a great leader, teacher, preacher and prophet and learn something about the movement he so selflessly served. It affords an opportunity to recall the heroic struggle of the civil and human rights movements of the nineteen sixties and the great souls who lived and died for it; movements that still have relevancy, currency and value today.

The problem with such celebrations is that as time distances present and future generations from the actual events of Dr. King’s life, some historians tend to revise and redact that history in ways that often take away the real impact and thrust of the Civil Rights movement and those incendiary conditions and Zeitgeist that inevitably gave rise to it.

For some there is a continuing disconnect between what happened then and what’s happening now. As one wag stated, “Stop living in the nineteen sixties. What does that have to do with now? We have these annual celebrations but what has changed and what is changing. Things seem to be going backwards instead of forward. Do people really understand who Dr. King was, what he stood for and what he died for?

The problem is that in our rightful celebration of Dr. King, who was a one of a kind leader, we can easily create a cult of hero worship whose saccharine adulation cause some to make him into some huggable teddy bear; a harmless, beloved prophet one who gave vaulted and resonate speeches in a place called never, never land a long time ago, but has no real relevancy to the struggle of freedom today. Let me say, the struggle for freedom continues but in different venues and in different ways.

The truth is, given the current state of our world and the present direction of our country in relation to its poor and oppressed, it middle class and working class, its common man and common woman, its corporate greed and crony capitalism, its politics of corruption and the weapons of mass disruption now propelling our democracy to convulse and froth in the paroxysms of fear and paranoia, Dr. King’s message is as relevant today as it was during his time. In fact his life and message may be more relevant today given the troublesome developments in our post 911 world and the various ways in which freedom and democracy appear to be undermined in the name of God.

Dr. King was both loved and despised by many because he crafted a universal message of Christian love; and many were threatened by that message of love because of the profound changes it proposed in progressively transforming America’s treatment of its darker citizens; it was a message that threatened the power centers of our nation because it galvanized thousands of people across the customary chasms and barriers that had historically separated them into warring, competing camps.

Not until the advent of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and not since the ascendancy of the American labor movement had so many people been mobilized and united across trans-class, cultural, racial, gender and religious lines.

In our recognition of the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we must be careful to not simply consign him to history. We must be careful in our idolization of him, to not romanticize the events of his life and sanitize the brutal history of racism and oppression that created the terrorism of night riders; a history that allowed for nearly 100 years the continued degradation and disenfranchisement black people in the South. We must be careful to not disregard how now more than ever in our nation we must keep vigilant watch to make sure that democracy is not destroyed in the name of freedom and freedom is not destroyed in the name of democracy.

As I was praying about a theme for this message this evening, I was lead not to take a text and preach a sermon, but to take a different approach by choosing a text as a back drop or framework for understanding Dr. King’s theology and philosophy and its relevancy for today.

Given the current state of our world, I was wondering what Martin Luther King Jr., a man approaching 80 years of age if he were alive today, would say to us. What would be his major areas of concern? What would he say to the President of the United States? What questions might he put to George W. Bush in private conversation? Would George Bush even give Dr. King, an elder statesman a freedom fighter, an audience? Let’s give the president the benefit of the doubt and say that he would as a man of faith; that he would want Dr. King’s advice to address these concerns.  He might say to George W. Bush, “Mr. President, I know that as one man you can’t answer all the questions I will put to you today, but as the most powerful leader of the free world, your leadership sets the tone for the rest of the world. Like it or not, people look to America as leader of the world. They want men and women of moral courage with moral authority. They expect you to lead by example. They expect you to demonstrate in your own leadership the qualities and characteristics you seek in them. Now I have some questions for you Mr. President, Sir, burning in my heart and in the hearts of many Americans. I have three basic questions or observations for you today to consider for the remainder of your term in office.

I. Why Are We in Iraq? There are many people who supported you because they believed in what you were trying to do but your support is beginning to wane because you still haven’t squared with the American people your reasons for going to war. I know you are from Texas and things are done differently in Texas. Without sounding facetious here Mr. President, there are Texas Roasts and there is Texas Toast. You can’t go around the world wanting to toast and roast all our enemies. You’ve got to do your home work, son. You’ve got to do your research. You ought to come clean before the people and let them know the real reasons for going to war. Too many Americans are angry and confused about the reasons why we are in Iraq. This confusion has left lingering questions which create ambiguity and erodes the people’s confidence in you. Whose decision was it any to go to war Mr. President yours or the Vice Presidents? Was it your idea or his idea? Is this a war or necessity or a war of choice?

In virtually all other wars the American people knew the reasons why we were there; to preserve democracy, to defeat communism, to fight global tyranny. This war was preemptive. You struck the enemy before the enemy struck us. You said in one speech that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. You said in another speech that we were freeing the people of Iraq. Now you say the war is to stop terrorism. Tell me Mr. President, were those the reasons or are there others? Is it the oil? Was it unfinished business of the previous gulf war? Was it revenge because Saddam wanted to hit the old man? All of the above? Why don’t you just say what it is? If it’s the oil and you believed you needed to have control over one of the last vast oil reserves in the world why don’t you just say that? Tell the people the truth. They are big enough to understand.

We understand your heart. We understand that you mean to have good intentions; (though we are not sure of the people around you) that you want to stop terrorism but before we went to war you should have talked to those who have experienced the hell of war. Why did you wait until now to converse with past secretaries of defense? You had a short conversation with them and then they all left. Why didn’t you consult them before you made a decision to go to war?

War is hell and hell is war. And those who have lived through the hell of war know of that hell. Many are not as fortunate as Audie Murphy who went to hell and back. Many don’t come back. Your own Secretary of Defense Colin Powell advised you of the hazards of war; that if we got in, we had better know how to get out.

Talk to the people who have lived through this hell; soldiers who have walked the bush; who have shot and been shot at, who have the sniffed napalm, who have stepped on mines; who have crashed their copters; who have lost their lives and been lost forever; talk to the people who have sucked their last breaths gasping on the clouds of air and dust and orange and gas; talk to the people who have sifted the brains and teeth and skulls and flesh to determine the identities of soldiers and civilians; talk to the people whose limbs lie in morgues, whose sons and daughters and husbands and wives, mothers and fathers lie in morgues; whose entire families like in morgues; whose futures lie in morgues; talk to the people whose eyes have bled and tears have run red with blood; talk to the people whose families cower in horror and live in the fear of war’s terrible aftermath.

We are not a pacifist nation. My views on war are very clear. I am against war, but there is such a thing as just war; a war of last resort; war used as a force to crush a greater evil, so that force must be brought upon force for peace to prevail. We understand Just War Theory. It is part of the Christian understanding of War. America has operated out of that understanding in defense of herself on numerous occasions. World War II is a classic case but had we stopped Hitler at Munich instead of appeasing him we might not have had that war.

Furthermore, if you must send our sons and daughters to war, for God’s sake, Mr. President, please send them with the proper body armor and properly armored vehicles? How can we dispense billions in private contracts to companies like Halliburton and not pay to properly arm our soldiers? Didn’t you know they were being sent into harms’ way without the proper equipment to fight this war? If you didn’t know, why didn’t your Secretary of Defense tell you?

A recent report indicates that nearly 50 percent of soldiers who died in Iraq might have survived had they had proper body armor.

Mr. President, War is hell enough, talk to the soldiers who can’t get their armor, talk to the people, talk to their families, talk to those who have been crippled and maimed by the CALAMITY OF WAR.

We understand the need to fight terrorism, Mr. President; by all means fight it with all you’ve got, but if you are going to send our troops into the hell of battle at least give them the equipment to do battle.

I believe that war is a whore we should study no more Mr. President. End the war. Bring our troops home. We must end all war.

Develop a plan to end the war. If you must, develop a coalition of nations that will help keep the peace in Iraq. Build a coalition of the willing so that no soul is lost. This might be difficult since you have alienated so many of our allies before the war. Don’t be too proud to humble yourself and admit the mistakes and win the day. It might be difficult just to walk out now, but you need to have a plan to keep the peace when the troops come home so that the sacrifices of the many thousands gone will not be in vain.

Many historians have said that when I spoke against the Vietnam War that was my undoing.

”They say if only Dr. King could have kept his mouth shut on the Vietnam War and kept his focus on Civil Rights he might still be alive today. This might be true, but the truth is I had to speak out. My conscience would not allow me to support that war. President Johnson thought that I had betrayed him. He had done so much to help the Civil Rights Movement that he believed that I owed him my total allegiance even on the war. But something in my heart would not allow me to remain silent. It may have cost me my life, but if a man has nothing for which to die he isn’t fit to live. As it turned out, Mr President, History has judged me correctly on my stance on Vietnam even though it may have cost me my physical life. Don’t let Iraq undo you like Vietnam did in Lyndon Baines Johnson. Study war no more. Develop an exit plan before this war lingers like Vietnam. Don’t repeat the lessons of the past Mr. President. War is hell and much too costly. I look forward to the day when money spent on bombs that can be converted into food for the hungry and housing for the homeless.

Finally Mr. President in regards to war, I would like to share this quote with you:

Beware, the leader who bands the drums of war in order to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervor, for patriotism is indeed a double edged sword. It both emboldens the blood, just as it narrows the mind. And when the drums of war have reached a fervor pitch and the blood boils with hate and the mind has closed, the leader will have no need in seizing the rights of the citizenry. Rather, the citizenry, infused with fear and blinded by patriotism, will offer up all their rights unto the leader and gladly so. How do I know? For this is what I have done. ” Julius Caesar

This brings me to my next statement or question, Mr. President.

II. Why do your policies and programs appear to favor the rich and upper class over the poor and middle and working class; why does true democracy appear to be vanishing in favor of plutocracy, and why does it appear that the rights of citizens are diminished in favor of the rights and interests of multi national corporations?

I thought the President of America was to serve all the people of America. If you can’t be of the people at least can’t you be for the people; all the people that is. I don’t know but I read somewhere “Who serves his country best serves his party best. ”

How can you give a tax break to the wealthiest people in our nation and you tell the working man John Q. Citizen that he can’t file bankruptcy because despite his circumstances he has to pay back every cent to the fat cats who are already fat? Don’t you know that poor people pay their debts more readily than rich people do; that rich people default on loans more than poor people do, but many people who file bankruptcy do so because of inordinate medical bills?

Don’t the rich already have enough? Do we have to keep bleeding the little man to get water from a rock?

Doesn’t five percent of the population already own 90 percent of this nation’s wealth? How much more do they need to be satisfied? Isn’t there enough to go around for everyone, so that every American can have a good paying job, health care and other benefits? Why does it have to be all or nothing? Why must greed compel some of your supporters to keep and hoard everything to them selves? Other free industrial nations provide basic necessities for their citizens why can’t we provide it for our people?

Why do you have to give everything to the corporations and to the rich? You pass yourself off as a good old boy but what good old boys do you know and have friendships with? Who are your friends? Have ever known any body that was poor? Has your grand mama or grand daddy ever been poor? Have you ever stood in a bread line, lived in a shelter or frequented soup kitchens to get something to eat? Do you know what its like to make beans six different ways on six different days and each day they taste different? Have you have gone without? Have you ever known any body who cried himself to sleep with hunger?

Why do you have to give everything away to the people who already have everything? The treatment of the poor, middle and working class is shameful. What about the little man, the common man, the working man? Why are workers denied the rights to overtime pay; denied the freedom to assemble and organize themselves into unions? Don’t you know that denying them this opportunity is to deny them their basic rights? Why do all the recent budget cuts most adversely affect poor, middle class and elderly citizens in our nation? Why is it now more difficult for our children to get financial aid for college when we are spending billions a day on a war in Iraq and easily disbursing billions to help the victims of Katrina many of whom are still homeless and waiting for help to be given? Why are more children going to sleep hungry than at any other time in our nation?

Why has poverty exponentially increased in our nation? Why are we building more prisons than public schools?

Why can’t seniors understand or fill out the new Medicaid and Medicare forms? Why are all of our good jobs in America being farmed out to a Communist China? Why are jobs being outsourced to India and Pakistan and other places? By the way, Mr. President, making a hamburger is not a manufacturing job. Why have thousands of family farms been lost? Why wasn’t Sago Mine regulated after some 170 some odd violations? Why have you deregulated so many industries that protected the common worker? Why do you choose people to oversee the regulation of industries who have worked for those very same industries and continue to do their bidding? Why are foxes watching the Hen House?

Why can’t people in Louisiana, Mississjppi and Alabama get storm relief like the people of Florida?

Why are corporations getting more money and poor people having more babies? Why is the middle class shrinking? Why are cities and corporations allowed to confiscate private property in the name eminent domain? Why is so much of our country now owned by Saudis and the Chinese who now hold the majority of our debt?

Why can’t we get standardized voting procedures for all states? Why are you privatizing the election process to large corporations who unashamedly support the Republican Party? Why did the owner of the Debold black election boxes in Ohio proudly state that he would win the election for the Republicans in 2004 and why hasn’t he been investigated? Why are we still using those boxes when they have been proven unreliable and leave no paper trial? Why weren’t voting irregularities in Ohio and Florida thoroughly investigated after the 2000 and 2004 elections? Why were thousands of law abiding African Americans citizens purged from the voting rolls in Florida during the 2000 election as felons and criminals when the majority of them were law abiding citizens without criminal records?

Why aren’t you holding accountable major corporations who exploit their workers and steal their pensions?

I myself advocated the breaking of unjust laws through non violent civil disobedience but why do you as President of the United States seem to circumvent and break just laws that already give the President the power to survey citizens who are a threat to the national security?

You will remember that J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI spied on me because he did not want to see the emergence of a new black messiah. He bugged my hotel rooms and wiretapped the SCLC head quarters. The FBI and other agenies instituted Cointelpro whose aim was to destroy movements it believed to be a threat to national security.

Every nation has an inherent right to survey citizens it believes to be a threat to national security. Mr. President the question is how this privilege is abused to destroy people who simply advocate basic human rights; people who have opposing views to the administration in power. The danger is how this law is used to spy on and destroy simple, freedom loving Americans who want nothing more than what the Constitution and Bill of Rights promise. “We hold these truths to be self evident that all men and women are created equal. “We are endowed with certain unalienable rights and among them are Life…liberty and the pursuit of happiness. ”

The question is what do we define as “threat, or who develops the criteria of what is truly threatening. Yes, it should be used to combat terrorism. Yes, the nation should be protected against terrorist threat and means should be used to minimize or abolish those threats.

The problem is how this privilege is used in Orwellian fashion against simple, law abiding Americans who have opposing points of view. Does personal protest against unjust laws make a person a threat to his or her country especially when the constitution guarantees his right to protest and free speech?

The problem is the people who are placed on the list for no other reason than advocating their basic rights as free citizens in a democracy? Who determines who is threatening?

Is Cindy Sheehan a threat? Are the transit New York Transit strikers a threat? Are Wall Mart workers a threat? Are clergy who do not worship a homophobic, war mongering, money grubbing Jesus a threat? Are environmentalists and Scientists who oppose Global warming a threat? Are people who believe in abortion a threat? Are people who believe in the separation of church and state a threat? Are Democrats, Republicans, libertarians, socialists, gays, lesbians and others a threat?

Who defines what and who is threatening and how far are they permitted to go in allowing government to spy on citizens without checks and balances. My neighbor might be threatening because he doesn’t care for his property, like I do, but how far am I allowed to go in addressing this threat by the rule of law?

Is any person who does not believe that government is has the right to trample afoot the rights of its citizens in the name of national security a threat?

Is every person who protests unjust laws and the mistreatment of people who are different a threat? Must those advocating justice and democracy be labeled unpatriotic, subversive or wholly against the interests of America a threat? Must every man or woman who voices concern about how he or she is or others are unjustly untreated be excoriated and branded a threat to national security. Somewhere I even said, Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. ”

The problem is a kind Nixonian abuse of power where those having the slightest deviation from the simplest views of those in power are branded and banished as renegades of the state. How Bill Cosby was a threat to Richard Nixon is curious to me. Such beliefs are dangerous to democracy and lay the groundwork for a kind of blind totalitarianism and fascism. Fascism in the words of Sinclair Lewis has the cross in one hand and the flag in the other. ”

We must be careful to not destroy the essence of democracy in the name of national security or abolish the very freedoms that make for a free nation. Once we destroy the very freedoms that make us a democracy in the name of national security we set the stage for emerging fascism. When we assail those who speak for the rights of freedom loving people, we slowly undo the basic tenets and building blocks of democracy.

Mr. President, I know that you cannot answer all these questions but you must give them attention because our very freedoms are at stake.

III. Who is Your God? Aren’t you concerned how religion is being used by the political process to justify its wrong doing?

You represent a party that prides itself as being the party of God, but what and whose God are you talking about? Is it a God of justice and fairness, mercy, grace and truth? Is it a God that has consideration for the poor and the least of these? Is it a God of peace and tranquility? Is it a God that favors the dispossessed and oppressed? Is it the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Isaiah, Amos and Hosea, who “Wants justice to roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream? ”

Some Christians who support you want justice to roll down like bottled water. They don’t believe in distributive or retributive justice; they believe only in justice for the rich and powerful. They believe in a justice that can be bought and sold in the market place. But is that the kind of justice of our forefathers intended? Is that the kind of justice we want?

They want to establish a theocracy under girded by a new Christo-fascism. They are intolerant of people who are different and the pagan, secular culture that they so deeply abhor seems to be more tolerant and open to people of all different races, religions and cultures than they are. That’s why some people prefer the constitution as a guideline and a guarantee for rights and freedoms rather than some of these bible thumping, people bashing religionist.

They don’t appear to serve a God who is broad minded and loving and tolerant of other people. They appear highly intolerant and almost fanatical in their desire to homogenize and Christianize America. Is this what Jesus would do? Would Jesus approve of way in which some have distorted the intentions and purposes of his church?

Who is your God? Is it a God who loves all people black, white, beige, red; Hispanic people, rural people, poor people, urban people, gay and lesbian people, Muslim people, Iraqi people, disenfranchised people?

Is your God a God of compassion and love; a God of empathy, sympathy and understanding? Is he a God of love?

Why do your God supporters always bash gay people, rail against abortion but remain silent about the abortions of war? Why do they remain silent in the wake of the current scandals and corruption in Washington? Why are they silent on how women and minorities are still being treated in this country? Why don’t they voice their concerns about th

Whoredom of Babylon and wickedness of Moab and Ninevah?

Why do these God people who support you always talk about how God punishes people rather than how God redeems and forgives people? Why are they long on law and short on grace? By the way, can you put a gag order of Reverend Pat Robertson? Can you ask him to be quiet just long enough for the spring thaw?

Why do these so called people on the religious right who give conservatism and the Evangelical movement a bad name, always blame the poor for their plight and seem more occupied with sex and sin than truth and justice and the rights of all Americans? Why do they personally attack opponents for their views? “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

What would Jesus say about the rich man eye of the needle theology? What would he say about poverty, disease and unchecked greed? What would Jesus say about people who use him to justify their crimes and misdeeds?

Why can’t there be middle of the road compensation. If the rich took one half of one percent of what they owned and distributed it to the poor it would cut poverty by half in our nation.

If Jesus healed the sick and poor and diseased and maimed wouldn’t health care be a part of his primary working theology? What did Jesus say about these things? What did he say about our nation and how its people are being treated? What would he say about a system that has run amok, where checks and balances, and prudence and caution have been thrown to the winds?

We are living in dangerous times, Mr. President, and all those who have fight, bleed and die for freedom should not receive the scorn of the republic.

We now have a curious blend of Republicanism, Corporatism and Dominionism which if left unchecked threatens to destroy our basic freedoms and the very foundations of our participatory democracy. Jesus would be against this.

As a Christian aren’t you concerned at how the beloved church to be prostituted in the name of God and faith based initiatives. The prophets have been compromised by profits and some churches have sold their souls to the devil.

I am very concerned Mr. President how certain people are giving Jesus and Christianity a bad name; how they are using religion as a tool of the state to justify their crimes against the common citizenry and taking the name of God in vain.

Leadership is what we need, Mr. President, which is something this nation is sorely lacking. Where are the true leaders? Where are the voices of concern? Where are the voices crying in the Wilderness?

We need men and women of strength and courage who will vouch safe the high ideals of America. We need men and women who will speak truth to power, will distribute justice and fairness and will show a concern of mercy for all Americans and not just a select privileged few.

We need strong, bold, courageous, visionary leadership. We need men who think as men of action and act as men of thought; women and men of integrity who will lead this nation back to greatness.

We want a world where all war is ended and those wars that continue will end in peace. We want a new world of moral order, for our moral standing in the world is now diminished. We have lost moral courage and moral authority, which are the endearing hallmarks of an enduring democracy.

Mr. President, it is time to set a new course for our nation; a time in which all of God’s people, and all the people of America and world should join together in a common cause to make our world free and safe.

We should fight tyranny and terrorism but we should not become the tyrants and terrorists we seek to eliminate. We must stand for what is right and do the right thing in the name of God because it is the right thing to do by God. Stop this suicidal path. Somebody please stop the mayhem and madness that can lead us all into permanent destruction.

Every American is important. Every soul that walks this earth is important in God’s eyes.

I gave my life for these principles and I would give my life all over again; so that every American has the right to life; so that he or she can have food, shelter, health care, a descent education, a good paying job and a realizable future without mortgaging or bankrupting their future.

We want a world where corporations and lobbyists don’t have the right to buy and corrupt the political process; to trample afoot and destroy the rights and freedoms of the little man, the common man, the working man and woman who has helped build America.

Don’t give it all away to the corporations. Don’t give it all away to the fat cats who are already fat. Don’t perish the futures of the common man in the name of Corporate power and the war on terrorism. Give the little man a break, will you?

Stand up Mr. President, Speak up Mr. President and do right because it is right thing to do in the name of God. You can start by cleaning house in your own administration.

Say Good bye to the people who mean you no good. Say good bye corrupt cronyism and vile. Our future is at stake and our world is at stake.

Jesus wants it and the American people want it more than ever. Let justice roll down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream. Please! As people of faith, we live by hope. As a man of faith, now is the time to turn swords into plowshares and poverty, hunger and disease into wellness, vitality and good health.

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