Monday, January 19, 2015

MLK and State's Rights

1. Over the years, a number of thoughts have coalesced in my mind in relation to Martin Luther King, Jr. One is that today is not really just about him. There are some who would try to undermine today by pointing to character flaws in this specific man. There are some who would cry foul that this particular man would have a day and other worthy individuals would not.

Although I am open, I cannot think of any scenario where these sorts of responses are not misguided at best, even more often reflections of a carnal heart. Does anyone deny that it was wrong to make a person drink from a different water fountain or get to the back of the bus because of the color of their skin? If you don't, then you implicitly believe that MLK's cause was just.

He advocated a non-violent path. I strongly affirm that as a Christian. There were many "Christians" who thought such people bad because they were law-breakers. Jesus was a law-breaker of this sort when people were involved.

MLK Day is not just about MLK. It is a day set aside to remember the societal and institutional oppression of our past. It is a day to remember that our society once treated something as trivial as skin color as an indicator of value. It is a reminder to be vigilant about such inequities in society today. That is a Christian cause in any generation.

2. It is significant that "state's right's" was the political tactic that was used to try to perpetuate these prejudices in the past. There are some in the civil religion camp who would mistakenly think that state's rights is somehow the Christian position. This is obviously wrong, for the following reasons.

State's right's may be a tactic Christians would use at a particular point and time to try to get society to a particular Christian destination. It might be a Christian means to an end. For example, as it has tended to play out, it is unfortunate that MLK Day comes the day after Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. Actually, these two might easily go hand in hand. Sunday would remind us that abortion is still taking place in America, and Monday would remind us that prejudice is still present in America.

But, unfortunately, the issue of abortion on Sunday is sometimes pitted against MLK day in an attempt to overlay or crowd out the other. It raises questions of motives, about which Jesus calls us to suspend judgment.

State's rights is a tactic in the abortion debate, but it is clear that if we could eliminate abortion on a federal level, that would be preferred. In other words, even in the abortion debate, we would prefer a national ban to a state by state ban. State's rights is a tactic in that fight, not the ideal.

And so it is that, for Christians who believe in absolutes and definite rights and wrongs, state's rights is not the preferred position. It is a tactic when we believe that the majority or those interpreting the Constitution are wrong. State's rights was the mantra of the South then they could see the writing on the wall with regard to slavery. State's right's was the mantra of the South when they were being forced to give equal rights to blacks.

But, from the perspective of right and wrong, if something is truly wrong, we want it to be wrong on the national level. The ideal is to prevail on a national level on matters of right and wrong.

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