FOUNTAIN: What would MLK say today?
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“Today the judgment of God is upon the church for its failure to be true to its mission.” —Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
If Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had lived, would he be a welcome guest at churches filled this past week with celebratory praise for a dead civil rights leader?
Would he be invited to stand in their pulpits and preach reform against a backslidden socially disconnected church that today basks in the glow of materialism while the people perish?
Or would Dr. King instead be banished for questioning — in this city, where he moved his family Jan. 26, 1966, to bring attention to the housing plight of the poor — why politicians and far too many preachers now suffer laryngitis on the socioeconomic issues that Dr. King once railed against?
Would Dr. King be embraced upon questioning why millions upon millions of dollars have been spent in Chicago alone, erecting so-called worship centers while poor black and brown neighborhoods languish? Where food deserts, unemployment, drugs and homicide have become intractable tenants. And where remnants of the fires that burned on the city’s West Side soon after Dr. King’s assassination still glare, like vacant lots of debris, garbage and rubble.
Would his fellow brethren welcome him, or shun him — as history shows they did in 1964, when Mayor Richard J. Daley warned black preachers not to allow the traveling rabble-rouser to speak from their pulpits or else face political repercussions?
The Rev. Clay Evans did not succumb to Mayor Daley’s intimidation and invited Dr. King to preach at Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church. Historical accounts, however, show that Evans’ punishment, sanctioned by Mayor Daley, was an eight-year delay to build a new church. Evans chose truth, love, community. He chose what was good and right.
Today, which side of history would black Chicago preachers be on?
Amid the deification of a man who history shows fought fearlessly while so many preachers stood on the sidelines of a stride toward freedom that cost him his life, I wonder. Amid the silent complicity of too many do-nothing, bling-bling preachers and politicians in our continued struggle, I wonder.
I wonder whether here, in Bigger Thomas’ town, where political power still seeks to muzzle the prophetic voice, would black preachers today turn Dr. King away rather than risk losing the favor of the current mayor?
Would they label him a troublemaker, an outside agitator come to stir up the status quo amid their comfy cozy 21st century corporatized, compromised and too often politicized version of Christianity?
And if Dr. King ventured beyond the city’s Magnificent Mile to its insignificant isles, where poverty flows like the mighty Mississippi, and public education remains separate and unequal, would he not be mesmerized by the sense of complacency among so-called moral leaders?
Would Dr. King marvel at the overwhelming volume of churches in the hood — symbols of hope and light coexisting with so much death and darkness? Would he wince with piercing pain at our self-implosion and cannibalization as a race, both in words and deeds?
And if Dr. King stood at the corner of Emmett Till Road and King Drive, would he see the fruit of the civil rights movement’s blood and sacrifice, or simply evidence of a dream still deferred?
If he listened to the milquetoast sermons of pie-in-the-sky preachers who do not prescribe a more social and imminent gospel; if he saw the glitz and glam of a church in a shimmering city where men, women and children huddle and shiver on cold unforgiving streets as societal outcasts, while so many churches stand at bay — fat with avarice and jaundiced with apostasy of love and grace — would Dr. King call the church to repentance?
I wonder. Actually, I think I know.