I come today to praise Dr. Martin Luther King not to berate him, for though he has become in our modern life perhaps America's only indigenous saint, it is useful to remember how utterly bedeviled he was in his final years of life, hounded as he was by the forces of the state. It is worthy for us to recall that the highest levels of government taped Dr. King's phone calls, monitored the privacy of his hotel rooms, steamed open his mail, and assigned anonymous informants to his every move. What we have forgotten in this era is how the second highest official in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, one William Sullivan, wrote in a now notorious memo that Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King was "the most dangerous Negro in
How was he so?
You, of all people, the congregation at The Riverside Church should know best, for it was here at
's historic pulpit that Dr. King spake the words that, in
FBI parlance made him a "marked" man. Here he called his nation, the Riverside , "the greatest purveyor of
violence on earth," and he condemned "militarism, racism, and
materialism." United States of America
King felt common cause with the peasants of
who were being bombed by the most
powerful military in the world. To King, there was something not just un-Christian,
but unseemly, when the wealthiest nation on earth unleashed an unprecedented
level of violence on an industrially underdeveloped, agricultural society such
as Vietnam . To King, follower of a poor Jewish
carpenter, the worship of wealth amidst immense poverty in Vietnam deeply troubled him. America
This is why the Reverend was marked by the state as "dangerous," a socialist, and a radical. This is why his fair-weather friends departed him and denounced him in his greatest hour of need. Martin Luther King was an adversary of the military industrial complex and the mammoth business interests that support it. . This is why, like the crucified Jesus, state power marked him, quashed his voice, and gave him up to a violent death.
But King did not oppose war, materialism or racism purely out of ideological motivations. As a man and a child of God he felt these things cheapened man's relationship with man and degraded the divine principle of life itself. He saw the dynamic of men fighting, bombing and killing other men, women and children as the ultimate sacrilege. King felt the pain of
because he truly believed in a beloved
community...one without borders. Vietnam
For these principled impulses and for his words he breathed his last, one-year-to-the-day of his
As we gather to remember Martin Luther King, we must ponder what this towering figure would say about the behemoth of modern day mass incarceration, of stop and frisk, of the death penalty, of the bewildering violence of drones, and of the continuing hunger for wars abroad in our name.
We know that the true Martin Luther King does not dwell in statues, in ghetto streets bearing his name, or in schools where children are violated daily in buildings erected in his name. His true spirit dwells with the least of these, in communities of the poor worldwide, in ghettoes north and south, and, yes, even in prisons.
In the revolutionary spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, we remember him as he was, not as he has since become.
I thank you all.
From Imprisoned Nation this is,