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It seemed like a bad dream. A little over a month ago, I was checking my e-mail and I came across a strange alert: Glenn Beck was co-opting MLK. Not sure what this meant, I took a look at a response that was written for Sojournors by Ruth Hawley-Lowry that stirred in me a righteous anger. The description on the rally’s site, called ‘Restoring Honor’ states the following:
Throughout history America has seen many great leaders and noteworthy citizens change her course. It is through their personal virtues and by their example that we are able to live as a free people. On August 28, come celebrate America by honoring our heroes, our heritage and our future.
Join the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and many more for this non-political event that pays tribute to America’s service personnel and other upstanding citizens who embody our nation’s founding principles of integrity, truth and honor.
Our freedom is possible only if we remain virtuous. Help us restore the values that founded this great nation. On August, 28th, come join us in our pledge to restore honor at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. This rally, to be held on Saturday, is on the 47th anniversary of The March and the famous “I have a dream” speech.
Aside from the tone-deafness and strange comparison of himself to King and ascribing the moniker of “great leader” or “noteworthy citizen” to himself, I honestly didn’t know what to make of it, other than to suggest that Beck seemed to either misunderstand who Martin Luther King, Jr. was and what he represents or he is ignoring it.
Even if I choose to give Mr. Beck the benefit of the doubt, I will share how I, living in the country transformed by this moment, still respond to Dr. King’s words. When Dr. King says, toward the opening of the famous “I have a dream” speech:
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.
But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
I don’t hear him saying that, thanks to this speech, we’re all going to be free. I don’t hear him saying, “Pass the Voting Rights Act” and all will be fine. Those words are as apropos today as they were in 1963, and to even suggest that we are in a “post-racial” anything is, at best, willfully ignorant and disturbingly obtuse.
Dr. King then describes the march as coming to Washington to cash a check—a check of justice and equality promised by the framers of the Constitution and built on the backs of slaves. To cash a check that came in the form of an IOU—not to be redeemed during the slave’s lifetime, or the lifetimes of their children, grandchildren, or great grandchildren. An IOU promised and perpetually rejected. An IOU of such fundamental import, that freedom would be woven throughout the entirety of the Constitution.
The tenor of the speech, which you should read yourself (it’s pretty short—find it here), is about justice. Not the justice that a piece of legislation can bring, or simple shifting of attention could address, but that would require the dramatic alteration of our culture and reorientation of our very being to represent this type of justice. And how does Dr. King describe this justice? He describes GOD’s understanding of justice. He is talking about justice that flows out of us; a justice won by our labors and given to us by GOD.
Glenn Beck has similar hopes for reorienting the culture—perhaps this is the most diplomatic way of suggesting the least bit of connection between the two gatherings. But his reorientation is toward nationalism, U.S. capitalism, and a Christianity that is subservient to those two principles. It will be a pro-military day—a strange counter to Dr. King’s plea for nonviolence.
As Mr. Beck declares his desire that the nation “change course,” and sees himself as an agent of that change, it becomes incredibly clear that this moment is not only an attempt to co-opt Dr. King’s legacy, but to change course away from that legacy. His speech continues to describe a future that inspires and provokes the best in us and world that we still can create. For Mr. Beck to urge that we change course is to declare that we change course from the course Dr. King has directed: to not make that dream a reality, but to disfigure that dream. A dream that describes, not simply a colorblind society, but a generous and beautiful one. As Dr. King argues:
No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
In leading this rally, and making a bold attempt to co-opt this watershed moment in American history—a moment in which a picture of true justice was painted for every American to see and understand—Mr. Beck not only spits on Dr. King’s grave, but spits on GOD’s sense of justice. And that is total BS.