2021’s intersection of Easter with the 53rd anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination is an ordained opportunity to view our faith through the philosophies of both prophets. In many ways, the flattening of the Christian legacies of Jesus Christ and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr provide intellectual and moral crutches propping Christendom’s public validation of the failed state over the Kingdom of Heaven.
As believers, both Christ Jesus and Dr. King sought to perform the will of God their Father through ministries from the margins to the center of the first and second imperial Roman Empires. Both King and Christ attributed visions of God’s glory radiating from public care for the stranger, the alien, the orphan, the widow and the dispossessed. Subverting the will of self to the will of God provided excruciating conflicts for both men living as ethnic minorities within Euro-American nation-states.
Both Christ Jesus and Dr. King shared excruciating life choices of service to the will of the Father, or life in concert to the conventions of Imperial Rome I & II. Both King & Christ made the conscious decision to choose the will of the Father despite the consequences inherent to their choice of discipleship over citizenship within imperial Rome. Their crucial act of affirmative will to serve God over man is the very question we 21st-Century believers must consider this Easter more than most.
Despite public revering now, Christ Jesus and Dr. King survived repeated slaying attempts before their eventual political assassinations in testament to their convictions as servants to the Most High. Christ Jesus evaded stoning attempts while ministering in the temple at the mount of Olives (John 8) and at Solomon’s Porch (John 10). Additionally, Jesus subdued detailed temptations to defile his temple with the conveniences of modern living and the privileges of socio-economic power (Matthew 4). Similarly, Dr. King, and his young family, survived a 1956 Montgomery, AL firebombing attack and in 1958, King again survived a near fatal stabbing assault at a Harlem bookstore.
The violent social retributions for servant-living experienced by King, Christ and their allies provides strong motivations for why present-day believers take the yoke of these Christian legacies with all the commitment political expediency allows. The public assassinations of both Christ Jesus and Dr. King sent shockwaves through Rome I & II and cemented the politics of acceptability to revere the actions of the mob state. Political assassination sets the public precedent that the lives and legacies of the deceased are capital crimes, punishable by the customs of the Roman mob elite. The assassination of Christ Jesus crystallized the political limits of prophetic ministry in the first imperial Rome. The assassination of Dr. King crystallized the limits of moral reform within the second. Despite how individual Americans appropriate the life politics of Dr. King & the Christ, the chilling details of their public deaths continue to reverberate in the consciousness of faith leaders and rank and file believers to this day.
The overdramatization of the deaths of King and Christ too often overshadow the prophetic templates for righteous living their lives embody. King’s salvific evolution throughout his life is the growth within Christ love we all must make within the modern-American system this Easter season. Dr. King initially instituted a sentimental ‘Beloved Community’ as his initial model to defeat Jane and Jim Crow racial apartheid. King’s early moral suasion and peaceful reconciliation platform sought to awaken the moral compass of white Americans to usher in reformed relationship-building and social reintegration throughout the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. By dramatizing the brutality of white racism on television and through film, King and his ministerial alliance postulated that after an inevitable “shock period”, the moral character of white America would self-reform from racial apartheid to multicultural democracy.
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Christ Jesus maintained a more functional system for faith living that openly redressed longstanding social and cultural inequities. Christ’s love inverted social caste by honing the conviction of ordinary women and men, reordering the powers of society from the bottom up. Jesus’ answer to the rich ruler in Luke 18 was as upsetting to the political elites of Rome I as Dr. King’s reply in his Letter From A Birmingham Jail was upsetting to the religious elites of Rome II. The cross section of the Resurrection of Christ and the assassination of King this year clarifies for the Church that socio-economic privilege and ritualistic observance of religious custom falls interminably short of the Cross not only this Easter, but every Easter.
Dr. King’s assent to structural & institutional righteousness set him at permanent odds with the United States federal government, the second imperial Rome. Interviews towards the end of King’s life display his moral clarity that a sentimental Beloved Community largely strengthened the coffers of the world’s greatest purveyors of violence. Desegregation compelled Blacks, and all God’s children, to integrate into the burning house of American imperialism and perpetual war. Dr. King’s 1967 opposition to the War in Vietnam thrust many Civil Rights advocates into the uncomfortable position of situating the Black political struggle for Civil rights protection with The Great Commandment to love the Lord thy God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul and all your strength; and to love your neighbor as you love yourself (Mark 12).
As opposed to taking up the dream of the slain civil rights leader or the cross of servant savior, today’s religious public appropriates public images or quotations from Christ Jesus or Dr. King as standard operating procedure for securing widespread public support for the policies or products being endorsed by corporations, individual personalities, or government agencies. Christendom’s assuaging of its moral guilt for promulgating false images of Jesus everywhere from Notre Dame football to the January 6th white-nationalist insurrection continues to empty Christian rituals of their cleansing power to redress social inequity and top-down power abuses.
For this year at least, celebrating the Resurrection of Christ is synonymous with observing the death of King. The timely combination of Christianity’s two prophetic leaders is a harbinger to the moral decadence gripping the second imperial Rome. The call for the Church to reclaim its birthright for declaring the Kingdom of Heaven is most apparent in the year in which we must reckon for the 53rd time why a minister of peace is gunned down in the midst of organizing living wages for sanitation workers on the same day we worship the risen savior’s triumph over death.
The deafening tide of historical amnesia is encouraging many Christians today to “turn the page” or “move on” from a half-decade of draconian immigration policy, state-sanctioned murder of Black children, women & men & the economic stratifications that precipitated the simultaneous pandemics of impoverishment, patriarchy & COVID-19. The false moral narratives governing legalized voting restrictions, statewide abortion bans, asylum detention and anti-union messaging in the name of civil liberties is the context for the Holy Church must proclaim a new gospel. Adding insult to injury is the reality that much of the fundamentalist agenda promulgates from mass appropriations of the image and scripture of Jesus and increasingly the words of Dr. King.
After arriving unto the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked the question that Dr. King saw fit to join in on this Easter: Who do you say I am?