I’ve recently been reading Strength to Love, a collection of sermons and essays by Martin Luther King, Jr., a longtime hero of mine who I’ve never had the occasion to read much of. I’ve admired what he stood for and listened to many of his speeches beyond just his Dream, but I can’t remember actually reading any books written by him… until now.
Copywritten in 1963, what truly stands out to me about so much of the book is the timeless nature of it. In a way, I find it encouraging that it seems that Dr. King and I are on the same page about a lot of things. However, in some ways, it is incredibly discouraging in that here we are 50 years later still fighting the same fight. And by many respects, it doesn’t look as if we’ve gained much ground.
For instance, one of the essays I found really remarkable is called “Paul’s Letter to American Christians.” Written from the Apostle Paul’s supposed point of view in a very similar style to the way he wrote to the Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, and other churches, the letter has a very intriguing way of addressing Christians in America. However, what really got my attention was his comment on the economic system in play.
“I understand that you have an economic system in America known as capitalism, through which you have accomplished wonders. You have become the richest nation in the world, and you have built the greatest system of production that history has ever known. All of this is marvelous. But, Americans, there is the danger that you will misuse your capitalism. I still contend that the love of money is the root of much evil and may cause a man to become a gross materialist. I am afraid that many among you are more concerned in making money than in accumulating spiritual treasures.
“The misuse of capitalism may also lead to tragic exploitation. This has so often happened in your nation. I am told that one tenth of 1 percent of the population controls more than 40 percent of the wealth. America, how often have you taken necessities from the masses and given luxuries to the classes. If you are to be a truly Christian nation, you must solve this problem. You cannot solve it by turning to Communism, for Communism is based on an ethical relativism, a metaphysical materialism, a crippling totalitarianism, and a withdrawal of basic freedom that no Christian can accept. But you can work within the framework of democracy to bring about a better distribution of wealth. You must use your powerful economic resources to eliminate poverty from the earth. God never intended one people to live in superfluous and inordinate wealth, while others know only deadening poverty. God wants all of his children to have the basic necessities of life, and he has left in this universe “enough and to spare” for that purpose.”
Of course, nowadays that elite tenth of 1 percent controls more like 60 percent of the wealth, and for those of us who practice the regular use of common sense, Communism isn’t really a likely alternative. Nevertheless, I think that the rest of what Dr. King wrote 50 years ago still holds true today. In the letter, he goes on to discuss how God is not a member of any denomination and encourages Christians to stand against segregation. Though this letter, and the majority of the essays in the book are geared toward Christians, I think that to move beyond this economic challenge we face, we will have to expand the concept of desegregation from the racial boundaries Dr. King fought against to a much larger realm, including cultural, class, and religious differences.
I wonder if we, as a people, will come to accept this understanding within the next fifty years or if we’ll just give the elite 80 percent.