Shout! A full-throated shout! Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout! Tell my people what’s wrong with their lives…(Isaiah 58:1)
When was the last time you went to church and enjoyed a sermon or choral selection or even a responsive reading that addressed the plight of the poor or lent hope to the world’s oppressed? When was the last time your minister encouraged you to live in a way that provided release, relief and comfort to the least, last and lost? Which “open prison doors and set the captives free” messages come from your pulpit? I’m not talking about the ecclesiastical tendency to hyper-spiritualize such concepts and morph them into issues of middleclass individualism and materialism. I’m not talking about the Jaguar driving pastor I met in Baltimore whose approach was to “get em saved” and then all their social issues will work themselves out. And I am not talking about taming the scriptural texts pertaining to the poor with the stock copout “People can have money and still be spiritually poor.” Yeah that might be true, but that’s not what Jesus is saying to our age of 1.8 billion people living in abject poverty when he said, “Blessed are the Poor” (Luke 6:20 vs Matthew 5:3). It is clearly not what his mother Mary is saying when she proclaims the works of the true father of her son, “Those who had no food he made full of good things; the men of wealth he sent away with nothing in their hands…” (Luke 1:53).
When I took up the cross, I recognized its meaning…. The cross is something that you bear, and ultimately that you die on… And that’s the way I’ve decided to go.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. May 22, 1967, Penn Community Center, Frogmore, South Carolina
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. forsook the promises of material prosperity inherent with becoming pastor of an important African American Baptist Church. With his oratory prowess and theological depth, he could have easily surpassed the Eddie Longs, TD Jakes, Joyce Myers and Fred Prices in popularity and prosperity. While the aforementioned chose the path of palatial mansions, private aircraft and luxury vehicles, King instead chose the prophetic path of the cross. In his own words, he proclaimed that he couldn’t worry about such things; he only wanted to do God’s will (I’ve Been Over the Mountain Speech).
Unfortunately this prophetic course has been steadily reversed since the time of King’s death. It has sadly been replaced with the theology of material abundance, which has left storehouses of morality, ethics, righteousness and justice practically empty. Somehow issues such as the new American slavery (also known as the prison system), the crises in education, health and housing among people of color and poor whites, the persecution and prosecution of certain southern hemisphere brown aliens, and the continued neo-colonial/neo-liberal destruction of the African continent and its people cannot hold court in the face is the issues of already overly blessed middle-class and affluent Christians, who instead of crying out for Sudan, cry out from their late model German and Japanese luxury sedans, for more blessings and increased territory.