April 4 marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., our American prophet, and the loss of his leadership was an immense tragedy for our nation. But even more tragic than his death is the loss of his challenging, and often unwelcome, prophetic voice.
The common understanding of the prophetic tradition is that it is the voice of doom and gloom often dismissed as a cartoon about someone holding a sign saying “the end is near.” But the ancient prophets — Amos, Jeremiah and Isaiah —- as well as MLK Jr. in our time spoke in a much richer, complex context declaring plainly about the consequences of neglect for the poor, the folly of dependence on military might, and the failure to humbly reverence the sacredness of life by our consumerism. They speak with dire warning about the arrogance and greed that brings upon itself its own demise.
Yes, there is a voice of doom. But the prophetic voice also is grounded in declaring the great love of God who laments for the fate of the earth when there is neglect of the poor, when the power of dominant empire forgets that God’s transcendent power that has the final say in history. And the prophetic voice is ultimately the voice of hope.
Yes, King’s prophetic voice rang of inspiring and reassuring dreams of a “beloved community,” but his voice rang even more clearly when he spoke of the three great evils of our time — poverty, racism and militarism. He warned emphatically that we could not continue to neglect the poor while wasting our nation’s wealth on war and the desecration of the earth while allowing the rich to continue their greed and entitlements.
Now 50 years later his words are clearer than ever: racism, poverty and militarism are eating at our soul leading to what he warned was “spiritual death.” Even as we mourn MLK Jr.’s death, we still have his courageous and visionary prophetic voice calling for an assertive, nonviolent struggle for peace and justice.
Thankfully there is a way to honor and respond to the legacy of MLK Jr. and his prophetic message. In the coming months we will be asked to join a revival of a national movement he had initiated before his death in 1968 — “The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival” — now led by Rev. William Barber II and Rev. Liz Theoharis. There are those on Whidbey who have joined with the Washington state and national movement Poor People’s Campaign organizers in planning for a call for action, and the people of Whidbey will all be encouraged to participate in this movement beginning in May.
For more information see https://poorpeoplescampaign.org/ or contact Tom Ewell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-341-1457.