Monday, January 21, 2008

Martin Luther King Jr. (More Thoughts)

Just read Beliefnet's interview of Mike Huckabee. He answers various questions in it, but I want to focus on one answer specifically in light of this holiday.
Q. There’s something interesting going on now in the evangelical world – there’s a conversation going on about what the agenda ought to be that seems broader. There was a little bit of a sense that the religious conservative leadership, while emphasizing important things like abortion and family, had neglected issues like poverty and the environment. Do you think that’s true?

A. I’ve said that, that I’ve felt like as Christians and particularly even as Republicans, we needed to address issues that touched the broader perspective, and that included disease, hunger, poverty, homelessness, the environment. And it’s not a matter that we’re going to become left-wingers. I don’t think that at all. I think taking care of the earth is a matter of stewardship. It’s not about global warming, it’s about stewardship and responsibility. Things like hunger and homelessness. And it’s not about having a government program, it’s about simply reminding each of us as individual citizens that this is an area of our own responsibility. At my own church… our church is very, very engaged in everything from dealing with hunger, poverty, and we reach out to a lot of people. We don’t ask the government to do it. We do it ourselves as a church. It’s part of our ministry. The only reason the government would get involved would be that the other social institutions – primarily the family the church the neighborhood – failed. If the family or church does its own work and does it well, then there’s no reason for government to ever get into these things at all. The ideal is that they wouldn’t, that they’ll do a lousy job of it generally.
So, Huckabee gives the classic conservative response here--small government--leave social welfare to private institutions. Fair enough.

Juxtapose this quote with the USA Today article, "Why Christian's Should Seek MLK's Dream, Despite Gains" by Tom Krattenmaker. Krattenmaker argues that "Christians could be this country's greatest force by rejecting the temptation of complacency--and a me-first prosperity gospel--while leading the way to racial justice." The article begins by convincingly outlining the numerous ways blacks continue to suffer racial injustices, falling short of King's "Dream," and finishes by asking whether racial progress is the responsibility of the individual or society.

Americans err if we believe that it's only a black responsibility to right the social wrongs of racial inequality. It's a white responsibility, too — and a Christian responsibility. Why Christians? It's not that other faiths can't do their part as well, but Christians — by sheer number and religious tradition — could be our best hope.

History shows that the teachings of Christianity hold an undeniable power to inspire positive social movements and call Americans to conscience, as they did during King's time. Many Christians will be the first to tell you they should be held to a higher standard — because their religion insists on it.

As the distinguished columnist Roger Cohen recently reminded, it is on the matter of race where one finds the greatest gulf between American behavior and American ideals. Will history find the same gap between Christian behavior and Christian ideals?
Sociologists have recognized that Sunday is the most racially segregated day of the week, suggesting that the church is not as integrated as the rest of society. So, if Mike Huckabee's conservative philosophy is correct, and we are to leave social welfare up to private institutions, how are we to expect racial progress when the church has yet to integrate at the same pace as society on the whole? What makes us think the contributions of homogeneous churches will create a more equitable society?

I am a Christian, and I would like to believe that the church would create a more equitable society where all races are reconciled, but I am weary. Until Martin's "Dream" is fulfilled within the church, maybe the government should do what it can to maintain a level playing field for all people outside the church.

(Kind of a hopeless post for MLK Jr. day isn't it?)

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