Alan Cross blogs at Downshore Drift.
Today marks the 50th Anniversary of one of the most important speeches in American history, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech given on the Washington Mall on August 28, 1963. It marked a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement and it had such galvanizing power because it called America back to who we claimed to really be. It lifted up our nation to what we were supposed to be – to what we could be together. An excerpt:
I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor’s lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.
Dr. King called us, just as Abraham Lincoln did in his first inaugural address, to be touched by the “better angels of our nature.” Dr. King rooted his “Dream” in his vision of America as a place of freedom where all men are created equal and where people should “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” We have struggled with this “Dream” in America because people are selfish and they seek to oppress others, but Dr. King called us back to who we should be and to who we knew we could be, if we tried. Dr. King was also led by a vision of the “Beloved Community,” which was a Biblical vision of people coming together and working together from all different tribes and races and groups as one. He believed that this “Beloved Community” could happen throughout society, but I would have disagreement with him there. I do not think that is possible because of man’s sinfulness. Only in Christ are we truly able to come together as one and many reject Christ. But, his vision was good and his Dream of unity was powerful.
However, I fear that even while we celebrate Dr. King and his speech, his Dream is dying before our eyes. Instead of coming together as a nation, we are splintering into tribes and special interest groups and every group based on race and ethnicity and status is clamoring over their piece of the proverbial pie. Instead of calling for “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream” (Amos 5:24) like Dr. King did, we see each group and even person grabbing after power based on their own sense of entitlement.
“I built this!” “I worked for this!” “I am a victim of past injustices!” “I deserve what you have!” “You are racist!” “You are lazy!” We have become a Nation of Accusation.
Instead of trying to come together and have a standard of character that will advance a person, we seek advancement based on what kind of power we can accrue and we see this as a zero-sum game. We think that if one person/group has power, then it means that another group does not. So, envy and class warfare result. If one political party has the White House, then the other party is in turmoil because having power is everything. If one group has more wealth than another, then there is injustice and the playing field must be leveled by force. We are no longer the Land of Opportunity. We are instead the Land of Disproportionality. Greed, Lust, and Envy mark us, which the Bible says is all idolatry. We are being eaten alive from the inside.
Instead of Dr. King’s Dream of being one people with fair treatment for all, we people who have wealth/power trying desperately to hang on to it and we see people without it trying desperately to grab hold of it. The result is constant conflict. We were once a country with a belief that a man could and should work hard and apply himself and make a life for himself with his hands and his brains. Yes, there were injustices because there was sin, but we also believed in God and that things would be set right one day. So, we lived and worked under that truth and in the light of that Day that would eventually come. Now, we have lost that. We no longer believe that there is any justice out there or that there is Anyone to appeal to. Dr. King spoke from a Christian framework 50 years ago. He appealed not only to America’s foundation but to a Higher Law. America still believed, so we listened. But now, we have rejected the Higher Law and the Lawgiver and all that is left is us climbing over one another grasping for power which results in anger and frustration.
We are moving toward Marx’s vision of the class conflict. Cultural Marxism has emerged as a viable philosophy in American thought which means that we now see our society through the lens of conflict between races, class, and the “haves” and “have-nots.” Critical Race Theory has emerged that sees every institution and aspect of American life as fundamentally racist because it is all based in White Privilege and was designed to oppress minorities. So, we cannot have justice until it is all torn down and replaced by something else. Dr. King’s Dream of a “Color-Blind” society is seen as a White/Conservative ploy to keep minority populations believing a lie that they might one day have equal footing while all of the mechanisms of American society and culture are still lined up in favor of White “Privilege.” We are no longer able to “just get along” as the late Rodney King once implored us to do.
I see no hope for the “Dream” that Dr. King called us to because the very foundation upon which he dreamed has eroded out from under us – or has been removed piece-by-piece. Dr. King was only able to dream his dream with a Christian imagination. He was immersed in the Biblical narrative. As that has been removed, all that is left is conflict and grasping and war. Calls for Peace have given way to Conflict.
The White Evangelical church in America, especially in the South, was deep in heresy when Dr. King called us to repentance. We should have listened. When we rejected his call (and the Biblical call to stand with the oppressed and work for justice) we sowed to the wind and reaped the whirlwind. We could have joined him and torn down the wall of segregation and made things right and established righteousness. Because we did not, other views/philosophies came in. By the late 1960’s and especially after Dr. King’s assassination in 1968, Black Liberation Theology began to emerge that was heavily influenced by Marxist thought. Critical Race Theory came on the scene and a Multiculturalism that has done more to keep us apart and in conflict than bring us together has become the dominant vision.
We need each other. We need diversity and different expressions. Racism in every form is evil and it distorts the truth of Creation, that we are ALL made in God’s image. God made all of us and we are stronger when we are working together. One race is not more valuable than another and should not exert power over another. The Bible says that Christ tore down the dividing wall that kept Jews and Gentiles in conflict and that He is our peace (Eph. 2:11-22). It says that there is no difference between us in Christ and that we are all one (Gal. 3:26-29, Col. 3:11). This unity is to be expressed in the church and it is a unity that is found in Christ. It is a unity that exists in Christ but works out in diversity as we all celebrate Jesus together with many different expressions. There are to be no divisions between us and the racial constructs that keep us divided should be seen as results of sin and selfishness and oppression and not something that is permanent. We should love one another sacrificially.
But, when the Christian vision is lost, the only thing that can take its place is a an appeal and grasping for power. One group wants power over another. Jealousy, envy, selfishness, and greed are all that is left. We see this in the Bible and we see it in world history. When the church lives like the world in this area (as we have in the past and continue to), then we have nothing to offer the world in the way of solutions. I do not agree with all of Dr. King’s theology as he was also influenced in many ways by theological Liberalism, but on this issue, he was hitting at something true and right. We are to be one. He located that oneness in American society and I think that was a mistake. The oneness comes as the Church guided by the light of Christ demonstrates true Christian unity and brotherhood both in the church and in society no matter what race or background a person has. The basis must be Christ and His Church, not America’s Founding. But, we missed that and located the Dream in the wrong place. It is only when we have a vision of what Christ enables that we are truly able to lay down our own self-interest and love sacrificially and serve others. I am not saying that only Christians can participate in this as there is also common grace that allows others to benefit as they live out these principles. But, when the Christian vision is rejected – and that is what fueled Dr. King’s Dream – then we have nothing real to call people to beyond ourselves and our own self-interests. The Dream dies. It can only live again in a country with a Christian vision of humanity. When that vision is replaced with conflict and constant fear, self-protection, and grasping, we cannot even see straight much less dream of a better future.
The result is becoming a Nightmare.