Politics and Piety Can’t Be Separated (A Post for Martin Luther King Day)

My life in faith began among predominantly white evangelical disciples whose piety seemed rooted and grounded in a close personal identification with the joys and sufferings experienced by the women and men of Scripture, chiefly Jesus. It is growing up, this life in faith, among predominantly white progressive disciples in the mainline Protestant tradition whose piety seems rooted and grounded in a passionate commitment to the justice and inclusion taught by Scriptural figures, mostly prophets, chiefly (again) Jesus.

No day exposes the gulf I experience between those two families of Christian disciples more than Martin Luther King Day here in the United States. We progressive Protestants elevate King’s call for political justice, reading from “Letter from A Birmingham Jail” and playing the “I Have A Dream Speech”; four years ago this weekend I took my students to see “Selma” as our youth group activity. Yet I don’t experience–and I don’t exactly lead–reflections on King’s deep personal faith in God, his piety, and his explicitly stated desire to be a follower of Jesus. I have focused more on his politics than his piety.

But can they be separated? Probably not without doing damage to both.

So I am spending today praying King’s prayer and dreaming his dream at the same time.

“O God, we thank you for the lives of great saints and prophets in the past, who have revealed to us that we can stand up amid the problems and difficulties and trials of life and not give in. We thank you for our foreparents, who’ve given us something in the midst of the darkness of exploitation and oppression to keep going. Grant that we will go on with the proper faith and the proper determination of will, so that we will be able to make a creative contribution to this world. In the name and spirit of Jesus we pray. “


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