On January 16, 2012

More Than Civil


So this video was filmed right in the middle of the African-Americans starting to do sit-in’s on southern eating establishments. They were breaking several unjust laws, and forcing the issues of racial prejudice and injustice back into the forefront of the American white people. African Americans were being arrested right and left, and so Dr. King, as the leader of this national strategy, was brought onto the Meet the Press show to give the rationale behind this movement.

He was 31 years old.

Which is convicting in itself for me. That just happens to be my age. By the time Dr. King had lived as long as I had, he had a command of national issues, a passion for justice, and a strategy that was starting to pick up steam. I’m realizing I just might play too much Xbox.

But here in this video, Dr. King is taking quite a bit of flack, he’s being asked some hard questions by some white reporters who seem to be feeling some anxiety associated with the spirit of that age (not to mention some poor fashion sense). And Dr. King never loses his calm, he never responds belittling or with anger. Heck, he never even mentions that thing that the woman reporter is trying to pass off as a hat.

Now there is a couple of observations in here for us. For all the reporters logic, and sense, they seemed to be unaware that they were speaking squarely with the voice of the status quo. Their imaginations had been captured by the spirit of the age, and they could not see it. It’s always a danger that when God sends a prophet people won’t be able to even consider the possibility that they could be wrong and he or she could be right. We build monuments and bridges for Dr. King today, but in his day, in many of the circles that celebrate him today, he was considered as favorably as a turd in a punchbowl. There is a real danger of not doing a fearless self-inventory when we hear someone who disagrees with us, or calls us to something beyond what we currently think

The second thing that stands out about Dr. King in this video is how he treated these people, and how he responded to the face of some pretty insidious seeming questions. He was extremely civil. In our day, these kinds of conversations would have been filled with graphics, sound bytes taken out of context, and lots of yelling and red-faced name calling. It makes for some great entertainments, and some horrible people.

But that wasn’t what Dr. King’s dream was.

See I think Dr. King was on to something here, the ends never justifies the means, because invariably the ends are tied up with the means. What you win people with is what you win them to. And Dr. King’s dream was for more than justice, it was for reconciliation. And you can’t get that with angry name calling.

I think Christians have got to learn something from the strategy of Dr. King. I have met people (many of whom I agree with) who are passionate about issues of the day. Most of the time these people are pursuing justice in one area or another, they care deeply about making the world a better place, they have dedicated their lives to affecting some change in their pocket of the universe. But I don’t want to be anything like them. Because justice, by itself, can be quite ugly. It can fail to recognize the humanity in the people that you are opposing, and it can fail to take an inventory of the brokenness in our own hearts. We can make it about us vs. them, and ultimately about power.

James Davidson Hunter has a great quote about the problem of political means in our Christian circles today. I’d like to quote it once more on here:

“Values cannot be achieved politically because politics is invariably about power-not only power, but finally about power. For politics to be about more than power, it depends on a realm that is independent of the political sphere. It depends on moral criteria, institutionalized and practiced in the social order, that are autonomous from the realm of politics…The irony is that no group in American society has done more to politicize values over the last half century, and therefore undermine their renewal, than Christian-both on the Right and on the Left. Both sides are implicated and remain implicated today.”

Today, we are noticing how hateful our culture is, and consistently trying to ask people to be civil to one another. Dr. King used politics to affect change where possible, but power never drove him, a dream did.

It was a dream shaped by the Scriptures, and carried about a church that cared about the reconciliation of all people to one another, a dream about the reversal of the tower of Babel, about brothers who set down their stones and decide to enter the party. It was about people who finally realized, because they shared the breath of God, they weren’t that different after all.

So Dr. King dreamed, and lived into that dream. If the end was to love each other, than the means couldn’t be different.

You can’t yell and out-argue someone into loving you. You can’t force or legislate someone to recognize your humanity,

You can only sit down at a table and love them with the severity that cannot be discounted in the face of hard questions and silly hats.

And that of course, is more than just being civil.

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  • http://twitter.com/pcunningham3 Philip Cunningham

    Too much Xbox indeed

  • http://disorientedtheology.wordpress.com Paul A.

    I was going to defend the reporters as simply doing their jobs of holding a guest’s feet to the fire, but after watching the whole thing, it seemed like there was a clear ideological breakdown on the panel, with Lewis, the New York Times reporter, and Spivak, the regular contributor, on the one side, and Craig, of the Portland Press-Herald, and van der Linden, of the Nashville Banner, on the other. 

    Van der Linden and Craig each had a “dog whistle” question. In other words, a question with certain words or phrases that would perk up the ears of those with certain backgrounds — questions about communism and reverse discrimination clearly fit that bill, and it’s pretty despicable for reporters to engage in that kind of nonsense. 

    I could still almost defend those two as simply asking the questions they’d been hearing if they had asked their questions as dispassionately as Lewis and Spivak asked theirs, but the edge in their voices betrayed their own convictions, which is pretty disgraceful from a pair of journalists.

    Which makes King’s cool responses all the more amazing. That couldn’t have been easy. His answer about segregation in churches was pretty awesome. I’m still mulling over the quote about values and power; I’m not sure I necessarily agree, but it’ll take some more thinking. Thanks for the provocative post!

  • http://disorientedtheology.wordpress.com Paul A.

    I was going to defend the reporters as simply doing their jobs of holding a guest’s feet to the fire, but after watching the whole thing, it seemed like there was a clear ideological breakdown on the panel, with Lewis, the New York Times reporter, and Spivak, the regular contributor, on the one side, and Craig, of the Portland Press-Herald, and van der Linden, of the Nashville Banner, on the other. 

    Van der Linden and Craig each had a “dog whistle” question. In other words, a question with certain words or phrases that would perk up the ears of those with certain backgrounds — questions about communism and reverse discrimination clearly fit that bill, and it’s pretty despicable for reporters to engage in that kind of nonsense. 

    I could still almost defend those two as simply asking the questions they’d been hearing if they had asked their questions as dispassionately as Lewis and Spivak asked theirs, but the edge in their voices betrayed their own convictions, which is pretty disgraceful from a pair of journalists.

    Which makes King’s cool responses all the more amazing. That couldn’t have been easy. His answer about segregation in churches was pretty awesome. I’m still mulling over the quote about values and power; I’m not sure I necessarily agree, but it’ll take some more thinking. Thanks for the provocative post!

  • Pingback: The Unfinished Legacy of Martin Luther King « Disoriented. Reoriented.()

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks Paul! That’s a good evaluation of that clip. It was Dr. King’s demeanor that I appreciated so much there. Thanks for commenting!