Martin Luther King

I came across the astounding story that a Pentagon official declared during an MLK event at the Pentagon last week that Martin Luther King, Jr. would have supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. MLK denounced the war in Viet Nam, in part because he was a pacifist but also because he thought it would detract resources and energy from the war on poverty. Here’s a link to a story that talks about the controversy. The full remarks suggest a more nuanced understanding than the early blogosphere outrage suggested.

Apparently, the official in question is a graduate of Morehouse College and was a classmate of one of King’s children. One might forgive him for trying to make a connection between King and the current conflicts. But I find it hard to stomach the notion that King would have “recognized that we live in a complicated world.” King knew that the 1960s were complicated as well. The final sentence of the speech does put it all in a larger perspective:

The irony of next Monday is that Mrs. King’s dream of a national holiday for her husband has become a reality; Dr. King’s dream of a world at peace with itself has not.

This is not the only way in which King’s legacy is being shaped to fit a contemporary narrative. The focus of the celebration tends to be on racial equality and cooperation. But as several people have pointed out today, King was assassinated while he was in Memphis helping organize a sanitation workers’ strike and he was also heavily involved in planning for the “Poor People’s Campaign. The historian Al Raboteau points out the central role of poverty in King’s thinking and efforts. (h/t Jim Naughton at Episcopal Cafe).

It is important to remember the fullness of his witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The collect for the commemoration of Martin Luther King, Jr., from Lesser Feasts and Fasts. He is remembered in our liturgical calendar on April 4, the day of his assassination.

Almighty God, by the hand of Moses your servant you led your people out of slavery, and made them free at last; Grant that your Church, following the example of your prophet Martin Luther King, may resist oppression in the name of your love, and may secure for all your children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.