Martin Luther King Jr.’s expansive dream

by Rev. Irene Monroe

Martin Luther King’s actual birthday is January 15th, and I believe if MLK were alive today he would be well pleased with Ava DuVernay’s film “Selma.”

Many people working for justice today stand on the shoulders of Martin Luther King Jr and what he achieved in Selma. But I believe King’s vision of justice is often gravely limited and misunderstood. Too many people thought then, and continue to think, that King’s statements regarding justice were only about race and the African-American community.

We fail to see how King’s vision of inclusion and community is far wider that we might have once imagined. And his vision always included lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

For King, justice was more than a racial issue, more than a legal or moral issue. Justice was a human issue. And this was evident in King’s passionate concern about a wide range of concerns: “The revolution for human rights is opening up unhealthy areas in American life and permitting a new and wholesome healing to take place,” King once told a racially mixed audience. “Eventually the civil rights movement will have contributed infinitely more to the nation than the eradication of racial injustice.”

Moral leadership played a profound role in the justice work that King did. He argued that true moral leadership must involve itself in the situations of all who are damned, disinherited, disrespected and dispossessed, and moral leadership must be part of a participatory government that is feverishly working to dismantle the existing discriminatory laws that truncate full participation in the fight to advance democracy. And surely part of our job, in keeping King’s dream alive, is to also work to dismantle discriminatory laws and dehumanizing structures that we see young people now taking to the street to protest about across the country.

But if King were among us today, he would say that it is not enough just to look outside ourselves to see the places where society is broken. It is not enough to talk about institutions and workplaces that fracture and separate people based on race, religion, gender and sexual orientation. We must also look at the ways that we ourselves manifest these bigotries, how we are the very ones who uphold and are part of these institutions and workplaces.

Often, we find that these institutions and workplaces are broken, dysfunctional and wounded in the very same ways that we are. The structures we have created are mirrors not of who we want to be, but who we really are.

King would remind each of us that we cannot heal the world if we have not healed ourselves. So perhaps the greatest task, and the most difficult work we must do in light of King’s teachings, is to heal ourselves. And this work must be done in relationship with our justice work in the world.

In “A Farewell to Arms,” Ernest Hemingway said that the world breaks us all, but some of us grow strong in those broken places. King’s teachings invites us to grow strong in our broken places – not only to mend the sin-sick world in which we live in, but also to mend the sin-sick world that we carry around within us. And we can only do that if we are willing to look both inward and outward, healing ourselves of the bigotry, biases and the demons that chip away at our efforts to work toward justice in this world. And our differences have been used to divide us instead of uniting us%2

Rev. Irene Monroe View more

Rev. Irene Monroe
Rev. Irene Monroe is a Ford Fellow and doctoral candidate at Harvard Divinity School. One of Monroe’s outreach ministries is the several religion columns she writes - “The Religion Thang,” for In Newsweekly, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender newspaper that circulates widely throughout New England, “Faith Matters” for The Advocate Magazine, a national gay & lesbian magazine, and “Queer Take,” for The Witness, a progressive Episcopalian journal. Her writings have also appeared in Boston Herald and in the Boston Globe. Her award-winning essay, “Louis Farrakhan’s Ministry of Misogyny and Homophobia”, was greeted with critical acclaim. Monroe states that her “columns are an interdisciplinary approach drawing on critical race theory, African American , queer and religious studies. As an religion columnist I try to inform the public of the role religion plays in discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. Because homophobia is both a hatred of the “other ” and it’s usually acted upon ‘in the name of religion,” by reporting religion in the news I aim to highlight how religious intolerance and fundamentalism not only shatters the goal of American democracy, but also aids in perpetuating other forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, classism and anti-Semitism.”