Who was MLK?
Rev. Michael King Sr. grew up a poor, Black sharecropper in Georgia at the turn of the last century. As a young man he moved to Atlanta, fell in love with a Baptist preacher’s daughter and eventually followed in his father-in-law’s footsteps and studied to become a minister.
In 1934, Rev. Michael King, Sr., attended the World Baptist Alliance in Berlin. He was so moved by the teachings and sacrifice of sixteenth-century German church reformer Martin Luther, that he changed his name from Michael King to Michael Luther King and finally Martin Luther King. His teen aged son chose to change his name to Martin Luther King Jr, after his father.
MLK Grew up in segregated Georgia during the Great Depression, but went on to become one of the greatest leaders of the civil rights movement. Now, on the third Monday in January, Americans observe the legacy of his contributions with a national holiday.
King Jr. studied sociology in college and then went to seminary to become a pastor like his father and grandfather. While serving in Alabama, Pastor King became involved with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a group of mostly Black pastors committed to achieving racial equality through non-violence.
Many people either think of Martin Luther King Jr. as just a Black hero, with nothing to offer to the rest of us. Others take him for granted as just another pop-cultural icon along with JFK, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis. For me, he is a hero of the faith. A courageous Christian leader like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who stood up to Adolf Hitler and the NAZIs.
One of my favorite books that I wish everyone on Earth would read is Dr. King’s “Strength to Love,” (1963) in which he explores the parable of the good Samaritan and what it means to love your neighbor and love your enemies, as Jesus taught. In it, he also wrote about the parables of the friend who knocked on his neighbor’s door at midnight and the rich fool who hoarded his wealth in his barns, only to have his soul required of him that night. King addresses fear and speculated on what sort of epistle the Apostle Paul might have written to America.
I think that even in mostly white, rural Iowa, it would be good to consider some of the lessons of Dr. King today in 2008. We forget that he was a Baptist minister like Mike Huckabee and a PhD who could analyze domestic and foreign and military policies just like like a Barack Obama or a Bill Clinton. We forget that King was a Nobel Peace Prize winner like Al Gore.
I recently found a speech that he made about Vietnam back in 1967 on April 4, 1967 at a meeting at Riverside Church in New York City. He was assassinated a year later on April 4, 1968 trying to help striking garbagemen in Memphis, Tennessee.
People wondered why a civil rights leader was suddenly turning into a war protester.
“I cannot forget that the Nobel Prize for Peace was also a commission — a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before for ‘the brotherhood of man.’…but even if it were not present I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I’m speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the good news was meant for all men — for Communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the One who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them?”
After three decades of supply-side economics, Americans have seen the high-tech bubble burst, and the real estate bubble burst, the stock market repeatedly crash and rebound, more millionaires than ever before yet a disappearing middle class, disappearing manufacturing jobs, jobs shipped over seas, high gas prices yet record profits for oil companies and a widening gap between the super rich and the working poor. No wonder so many voters in Iowa responded to the messages of John Edwards as he railed on big corporations and unfeeling insurance companies.
King talked about our problem with consumerism in his 1967 speech too.
“…We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin…we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality.”
Black , White, Red, Yellow, or Brown, Dr. King’s teaching may have as much to say to us today, as it did forty years ago.
Law & Order? Or LOVE & Community?
I know we’re not supposed to “cherry-pick” verses, but if anyone uses Romans 13:1-9 to teach “law & order,” just skip to verse 10; “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
Oh, and in the United States, the First Amendment IS the law. The 14th Amendment IS the authority. Not any one leader, official, or party.
Whether Jesus says it, St. Paul says it or any Old Testament prophet says it- LOVE is God’s law.
Meanwhile, whether a Federalists like Adams & Hamilton said it, or Anti-Federalists like Jefferson & Madison said it, “We the people,” and the Constitution We ordained & established are the law & authority in the United States. That is what makes us “exceptional,” shared, collaborative, cooperative and limited power, not absolutist authorities.
Need a Summer Read?
No, it’s not like I suddenly wrote four books since March. Actually I’ve been blogging since 2002 and I’m compiling things I’ve written into self-published books you can order on Amazon or Goodreads.
Here’s micro-synopses on each one:
‘Cheesebread & Coffee’ are humor pieces from the Charter Oak-Ute NEWSpaper and Mapleton PRESS 2002-2008. Not political, not too religious.
‘Max Nix’ is a collection of poetry from 1985-2020. I know, poetry isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but I’ve been told mine is short, approachable, relatable and keeps you reading.
‘Dear John’ is a series of reflections on the book of 1 John. Not exactly a devotional, not exactly a Bible study- somewhere in between. It deals with some current issues though, love and who is our brother?
‘Prophet, Priest & Pirate,’ 2004-2020 essays on politics & religion. Yep, more progressive than most voters in Iowa’s 4th District, but more moderate/conservative than most of the rest of the U.S. Basic thesis: Democrats can be Christian too, and while we’re at it- let’s be careful not to make either political party or their candidates into false idols.
I hope that at least one of these will interest you. I have another three or four “in the pipeline,” but I’d better take a break and focus on school for the rest of the Summer. Hopefully I’ll try to get another one or two out later this Fall of Winter.
What is Fundamental Anyway?
I’m sorry. I just don’t get it.
To me, the fundamentals, the very foundation of the United States is equality, human rights, and community. Participating and compromising for the common good.
I got these ideas from Jefferson, Adams, Madison, and if they weren’t enough, also from Lincoln and both Roosevelts. And yes, Doctor King too.
But people who call themselves patriots, and nationalist and pro-America laud leaders who don’t believe in, let alone value, respect or protect any of those things.
And they let their anger, ignorance and disdain for the rest of us rage like a prairie fire.
But if I snap back, I have to consider relations and treat people better than that. If want to remind everyone of what our fundamentals are, I’m warned that I’ll offend someone, that they’ll think I’m too radical.
To me, the very heart, the basics, the absolute fundamental foundations of Jesus and the whole Bible, Old and New, is love.
Love the Lord your God with all your strength and all your heart and all you mind. AND love your neighbor as yourslef.
Love your neighbor? Who is your neighbor?
Love your enemies, pray for those that persecute you.
If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
Seems clear. Seems fundamental.
But if you say that, they look at you suspiciously.
Who are you listening to? What are you reading?
Um, Jesus, the Prophets, judges, and teachers of the Torah and Jesus, Paul, John, the Apostles and Epistle writers of the New Testament.
That’s heresy. That’s reduction-ism. That’s liberation theology. That’s too liberal. That’s watered down.
Here I was thinking it was distilled, concentrated, liquor, jet fuel.
Essence. Spirit. Anything BUT diluted.
Accepting anyone into fellowship who doesn’t submit to every jot and tittle of the law would be like condoning their every error.
Grace itself becomes a work, after having been reminded over and over that our own works are worth nothing.
Not just adherence to orthodoxy, but allegiance to homogeneity is the only safety.
I think to much. I feel too much. I talk too much.
My fundamentalism is the wrong kind of radical.
I’m stupid. I’m crazy. I’m a problem. I hate our heritage.
Don’t point out our ignorance, our apathy, our inconsistency, our mental illness, our stubbornness.
I get it.
Judge not, let ye be judged.
I must have logs in my eyes.
What I thought was fundamental, the fundamentalists find too progressive.
I thought evangelical meant having a personal relationship with God and wanting to share the good news of His love. Isn’t to evangelize, to share, to witness? But the more I speak or share, the more I’m isolated and marginalized. Muffled. Stimied.
What I thought was egalitarian and democratic and just is apparently “socialist” and “elitist” and “unamerican.”
Do I really not understand the fundamentals?
“Indeed I tremble for my country when reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference!”
— Thomas Jefferson
” Jesus wept.”
Don’t miss the main point; Re-read the important stuff if you have to
I try to read through the Bible about once a year and it really all boils down to a few things. I’ve read the law and the prophets and the psalms and the proverbs in the old testament and I’ve read the gospels and the acts of the apostles and the epistles in the new testament and it all seems to come down to these:
Faith, Hope, and Love
Of course, the greatest of these is love. God is love, there is no fear in love. The whole of the law and the prophets is summed up in love the Lord your God with all your hear and all your soul and all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself. The greatest commandment is to love one another.
But still, people who call themselves Christian demand, compete for and cheat to gain and maintain control (showing a lack of faith). They use fear as a tool to get leverage and to motivate, and they seem to be motivated by jealousy, defensiveness and anger- all showing their lack of hope. And they behave and talk as if they’re motivated by hate. Even if/when they claim not to be, their actions and words convince other people that they are.
Now I don’t read Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic, and I realize that whether I like it or not, many people seem to interpret Scripture very differently than I do. I’m only human and I pray that if I’m way off base, God will correct my thinking, but I guess my suspicion is that most people who throw around the Bible to support their political, social or philosophical positions haven’t spent a lot of time reading it, let alone asking God’s Spirit to truly work on their hearts or change their character to be much like Jesus’.
You’re right- I’m not an ordained minister, I don’t have a ThD or a PhD or a DivD or RelD, or whatever expert degree in Biblical history, literature or doctrinal studies to make me the ultimate expert. I’m not God. I’m just another sinner like everybody else.
If you really want some credentials, I’ve taken undergraduate college-level religion and theology courses, been taught about at least basic level hermeneutics and exegesis and was given a diploma granting me permission to teach religion classes to 7-12th graders in Lutheran schools. I’ve taught adult (not very well) and youth (not very well attended) Bible studies and helped my wife teach junior high Sunday School classes. I’ve served as an elder at two congregations and on the church council at one.
None of that makes me any holier than the next schmoe or more better, smarter, or the definitive expert on God’s Word- but even a numb-skull jerk like me can tell you that if your religion tells you to hate people, hurt people or deny them the same legal/social/economic/political rights as you, then there’s something very wrong with your religion.
May I suggest that either you’re not listening, you’re not willing to surrender and let God be God (and give up being god yourself) or you’re not bothering to read God’s Word as often or as deeply as you say you do (or as you think you do).
Ask yourself something. If God gave YOU your rights, your property, your money, your lifestyle, your position in life- what makes you think He hasn’t given those same rights to other people? Or don’t you think of all other people as people?
Which brings me to my next line of thought.
I end up reading through a lot of other things pretty much every year because I teach Civics. The Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Federalist Papers, the Bill of Rights and the rest of the Constitutional Amendments, our state constitution (Iowa,) a number of laws, treaties, Presidential speeches (including the Gettysburg Address) and number of letters and speeches from other noted historical figures like Ben Franklin, Thomas Paine and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
And guess what?
It really all boils down to a few things:
Liberty and Justice for ALL
Some read the Pledge of Allegiance and focus on the flag, the republic for which it stands or on God, but I stick on last three words because I’ve noticed a pattern where these three concepts (at least in synonym form) keep showing up in document after document.
The Mayflower Compact doesn’t address freedom (liberty) and it certainly didn’t offer rights or equality to women, natives or other non-whites, but it does say that the signers would offer all DUE obedience to any JUST laws meant for the GENERAL good of the colony. That certainly seems to cover justice and all.
I teach my Civics classes that at the core of the Declaration of Independence is that King George III and Parliament had broken the social contract (been unjust) to the colonists, therefore Congress believed that they were justified in separating from the mother country.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that ALL men are created EQUAL and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable RIGHTS… to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, whenever any government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it…”
The three principles there are equality, rights, and justice (social-contract), or if you reverse the order; liberty (rights and freedoms), and justice for all (equality).
The Preamble to the Constitution implies and assumes equality when it begins “We the people.” The “blessings of liberty” means the right to partake in participatory, representative-democracy. Establishing justice is the first goal meant to help us form our more perfect unity.
The First Amendment describes our most fundamental rights (including religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition. Other amendments cover many other rights and liberties and the Fourteenth Amendment in particular emphasizes the equal nature that justice is supposed to take.
Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address reminds us that America is supposed to be “dedicated to the proposition that ALL men are created equal” (as the Declaration says). Yet most people seem to miss that that proposition is the “great task remaining before us” to which Lincoln urges us to find increased devotion toward.
I contend, in fact, that his closing about “government of the people, by the people and for the people” embodies these same three concepts. It is OF the people because ALL people are created equal- there isn’t supposed to be a ruling class like in an aristocracy, oligarchy or plutocracy. It is BY the people because we all have a RIGHT (the LIBERTY) to participate- if not to run, then to vote, to speak up and speak out, to assemble and petition.
And this is the “creed” in his “I have a dream” speech that MLK imagines the United States rising up and finally living out. Keeping the contract that promised equal rights, because we’re ALL created equal and endowed by God with the same rights.
Liberty and justice for ALL.
I don’t see these three the least bit incompatible with faith, hope, and especially love. Bottom line; If you don’t believe ALL human beings are equal and therefore entitled to justice, equal rights, equal opportunities, equal dignity, equal respect and fair treatment- well, you’re not doing “America” right.
I recommend reading some of the documents that formed this great experiment in participatory government. You don’t have to be a History Major or take a graduate course in political science. The Declaration, the Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address are all a Google-search away, for free. There are free versions available on many app for your phone. Look for whenever you see those three concepts of equality, rights and social-contract, AKA liberty, and justice for ALL.
If you STILL can’t see what I see, if you STILL don’t find that governments exist to protect rights and we have rights because we’re all created equal- if you still aren’t humbled or inspired toward altruism, compassion and community- if you’re still convinced that America is for only a chosen, exceptional few and government’s only role is to protect the privileges and property of those few- well, then, may I recommend that you start reading the Bible and look for the core message THERE.
End of sermon (rant/plea/manifesto- whatever you want to call it.
The Jesus Revolution
Great sermon by Brian Zahnd on Isaiah 56:1-8, Acts 8:4-32, & Galatians 3:28. Exclusion is legalistic, the Gospel, grace, love, & mercy are all INCLUSIVE.
This past Sunday was “Trinity Sunday” in most churches. The Gospel lesson at ours was Jesus’ theological discussion with a member of the council of priests in Jerusalem, a Pharisee named Nicodemus.
I was struck hearing this discussion found in John 3 by how much Jesus was talking about the Holy Spirit before the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). In verses 3-8 He talks about being born in the Spirit.
Jesus isn’t talking about having to be “born again” emotionally or intellectually before choosing to be baptized as Fundamentalist Evangelicals or Baptists talk about. Nor is He talking about a baptism in the Holy Spirit or an “anointing” of the Holy Spirit as many Charismatics and Pentecostals talk about.
Jesus doesn’t separate the baptisms. He says we should be born of water AND Spirit. Not “or” or “then.” Maybe that’s why the Nicene Creed only mentions “one baptism…” it’s not we who do the work in this rebirth, it’s God the Holy Spirit.
Only God can resurrect a dead body as He did with the “first born (Colossians 1:18, Revelations 1:5) and only God can give new birth to a soul with His Spirit (breath, truth, essence).
Maybe God helped me make this connection because I’d been teaching Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address these last few weeks of school in my Civics class.
Did you just hear that needle scratching a vinyl record as the turntable abruptly stopped? Yeah, it was when you spat out whatever beverage you were sipping on with that epic “spit take.”
I know, how can I switch gears so fast from theology to American History. Hear me out.
In his famous two minute speech at the dedication ceremony of a veterans memorial cemetery, “Father Abraham” was using an Ancient Greek format for elegies at funerals. One that a learned scholar in Hellenistic, Roman occupied Palestine, like Nicodemus and Jesus (as the only begotten Son of the living God ) would probably have been familiar with.
The format was this; 1) Life, 2) Death, and 3) Rebirth.
For Lincoln, his speech followed the format like this:
1) America was founded on liberty and equality
2) The Civil War might just kill that dream of a country “so conceived and so dedicated.”
3) To give that country a “new birth of freedom,” we must become dedicated and devoted to a great cause, unfinished work- that same “proposition that all men are created equal.”
What good would it be if the Union had won the Civil War but not ended slavery with the 13th Amendment? Those who died that this nation might live would’ve died for nothing (“died in vain”) unless we the living aren’t devoted to “that cause to which they gave their last full measure of devotion,” namely the “proposition that all men are created equal.”
Likewise, Jesus wanted Nicodemus to understand three truths:
1) God creates us to be in His image; Love. In relationship with Him as our God and in relationship with our neighbor (Deuteronomy 6:4), however
2) Sin & selfishness have left us spiritually dead. Incapable of loving God or our neighbors. We can’t see past our own desires, we’re blind even to our own needs and helplessness (Romans 3:23). There is nothing we can do ourselves to change this. Dead people cannot rescue themselves from death.
3) But nothing is impossible with God. He loves us enough to send his only begotten Son to save us (John3:16). He didn’t come to condemn us but to save us (John 3:17).
Yet what good is a savior if we rejectHis salvation? When we refuse His love & grace & mercy, we stand condemned already, we remain spiritually dead (John 3:18).
Also- What good is having the very Son of the creator of the universe teach us the Beatitudes if instead we continue loving only our friends and hating our enemies?
Lessons from Doc
I realize that MLK Day was a couple of weeks ago but this blog post has kind of been nagging at me ever since then.
Everyone knows him from his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech from 1963 and as an important civil rights leader who was assassinated in 1968. But how many of us have ever took the time to really read, study or digest that speech?
History buffs and civil rights advocates may know more about him. They may know that he’s also remembered for his ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail,’ for leading protests there and a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to draw attention to state discrimination in voting rights.
They may credit him with helping to put pressure on President Johnson and Congress to pass both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. They know that after fighting so long against legal segregation and political equality in the South, he had begun campaigning for economic justice nationwide.
But we forget that he was a pastor, a theologian, an intellectual, a husband and father, a reader, thinker and writer. “Rev. Dr.” means that he was ordained and had a PhD. He wasn’t just a gifted speaker, activist and organizer. He was a ridiculously prolific writer.
He’s one of my personal favorite writers.
As a History/Social Studies teacher, I think his most fascinating piece, in therms of political science, sociology and philosophy has to be his 1967 speech ‘Beyond Vietnam.’
Two of my favorite books aren’t political speeches or editorials though, they’re sermons, devotions and essays on spirituality, love, and King’s trademark non-violence. Strength to Love from 1963 and The Measure of a Man , from 1968.
Without having open copies by my side, or a tab open to search for quoted from MLK, I want to share some principles I’ve gleaned from Doctor King’s writings that I try to apply as life lessons. Full disclosure; I’m a white male that grew up in the middle-class suburbs of Phoenix in the 70’s (‘Leave it to Beaver,’ only not in the 50’s).
Maybe that’s the point though- while as a progressive it ticks me off to see right-wing extremists and conservative Republican pundits and politicians try to co-opt Dr. King’s quotes or use his image to try to evoke pretend inclusion or phony compassion- much of King’s teaching really does transcend race, gender, and era.
King made no secret that he was influenced by Mahatma Ghandi, Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther, and Jesus Christ of Nazareth. I bet he was also influenced a lot by Mahalia Jackson and Cloretta Scott-King too. What positive role models? We could all use some role models like those today.
When I read King, I see much of his ideas and beliefs echoed in secular authors like Viktor Frankl and Christian authors like C.S. Lewis. white And in white evangelicals like Tony Campolo and black activists like John Lewis and Cornell West. Most of all, I hear echoes of Saint Paul and of Jesus.
If I could pass anything on to my children or my students, I wish I could plant these lessons in their hearts and minds, but I know they have to read Kings books for themselves, listen to his speeches for themselves, study history, read scriptures and encounter God all for themselves. I can’t do it for them. Be that as it may, here are some things I learned from Dr. King.
Off the top of my head, & from the well of my heart-
Lessons I’ve learned from Doctor King
- Meet physical force with soul force
- Peace isn’t just an end, it’s a means to many ends
- Forgiveness is hard, but it shouldn’t just be a habit, but a way of life
- Be a thermostat, not just a thermometer
- Better to be tough minded and soft hearted than hard-hearted and soft-minded!
- Never give up hope, seek to become a prisoner of hope
- Undeserved suffering is redemptive
- ALL of our destinies are inextricably tied together
- Injustice ANYWHERE is a threat to justice EVERYWHERE
- Never stop; if you can’t fly, run, if you can’t run, walk, if you can’t walk crawl- but keep moving forward.
- Hate can’t drive out hate, only love can do that
- Just a sneeze can change history
- Just because something is a law doesn’t make it just and unjust laws sometimes may even need to be broken to draw attention to the fact that they ought to be changed
- Change comes from faith, prayer, love, community, and sacrifice
- Words are powerful
- It’s one thing to claim to believe something, it’s another to live out the true meaning of those beliefs
- Love others, even your enemies
Quick Civics Lesson on the First Amendment
I don’t know about you, but this election season it’s been driving me crazy whenever presidential candidates or their supporters accuse each other of ignoring the Constitution or promising to stand for the Constitution in ads and stump speeches but then support proposals or policies which are diametrically opposed to Constitutional principles or worse, flagrantly violate people’s Constitutional rights.
So if you’ve got a minute, here’s a quick review of some of your Constitutional rights as explained by an Eighth grade Civics teacher. Now, if you don’t trust me or come to this blog with your own set of political perceptions, by all means, I urge you to read the amendments for your self- here’s a convenient link to let you do so.
Two quick things before we begin- Let’s face it, people of good conscience are allowed to disagree; keep in mind at all times that individual voters, politicians, their parties, Constitutional law professors and the U.S. Supreme Court all have different interpretations of all of these rights and amendments. Also it’s important to remember that Amendments ARE part of the Constitution. To amend is to alter or change, so when we’re talking about the amendments we’re talking about Constitutional rights, not something separate or different or in addition to the Constitution, this stuff IS the Constitution.
- The 1st Amendment- includes freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly & petition
- Lots of people get confused by the religion part, perhaps because it’s so important or perhaps because everyone seems to not want others to tell them what they should believe but at the same time everyone also seems to want to tell everyone else what they should believe. It’s a control issue. Here’s how it breaks down:
- The “Establishment Clause” says that the government is not allowed to endorse any one religion over another. There is no official religion of America. Taxes don’t pay to to support churches and public schools aren’t supposed to take advantage of their captive audiences to try to convert their students. After eons of religious wars in England and Europe, Americans thought they might give pluralism a try. So in a way, there is freedom from religion.
- The “Free-Exercise Clause” on the other hand says that the government may not prevent you from believing what you believe, how you believe it or exercising your faith whenever, wherever, however. I tell students to feel free to discuss their faith and even to pray, I just can’t initiate or lead the prayer since I’m a public school teacher and just like any other topic, if I try to facilitate the discussion, it’s just going to be to make sure it’s pertinent to what we’re learning about and doesn’t pose a substantial disruption. The establishment clause doesn’t preclude the exercise clause and vice versa.
- Like all the other rights I’m about to talk about, the best way to protect your rights is to protect the rights of others. If as a Lutheran. Methodist or a Catholic, I don’t want Pentecostals, Southern Baptists, 7th day Adventists or Mormons telling me I have to believe everything they believe, I kinda have to allow Jews, Quakers, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientologists, Muslims, Amish, secularists, atheists, agnostics, Wiccans, and even Satanists to believe what they want to believe. That’s the hard thing about living in a pluralistic society. As a Christian myself, I tend to lean on Jesus’ parable of the weeds and wheat growing in the same field (see Matthew 13:24-30) to help me with this one. Like so many other things in life, it’s all about control, I don’t want you trying to control me, so I guess I’m better off not trying to control you. If I really believe God is in control, does He really need my help? See, that whole omnipotent thing kinda puts me in my place… anyway-
- Freedom of Speech- does not mean say whatever you want, however you want to whomever you want whenever you want. The First Amendment does not protect you from the consequences of your tactlessness and it can’t protect you in a civil suit if you’re accused of slander (deliberately spreading lies about someone in order to hurt their reputation). However, it DOES mean, that you ARE free to speak your mind on political, social, economic, cultural and religious matters without fear of being locked up, exiled, or otherwise punished or persecuted by the government. We ARE allowed to criticize public figures and officials and their positions, policies, and programs. We’re not necessarily allowed to incite violence or bully or harass people.
- BTW FYI over the last couple hundred years the Supreme Court has really expanded “Speech” into “Freedom of Expression,” so yard signs, bumper stickers, hair styles, music, piercings, tattoos, clothing, holiday decorations on your house, yadda yadda yadda pretty much all covered.
- ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM- Campaign finance reform, Political Action Committees (PACs) and Super Paces, & “Dark Money”- in 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court Case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Court declared that money IS speech and that corporations are at least “associations of citizens” so Republican candidate Mitt Romney wasn’t just talking out of his a** (pardon my French) when he told one voter at the Iowa State Fair back in 2012 that “corporations ARE people, my friend.” The problem with this decision is that while at one level it is logical to conclude that campaign contributions are a way of expressing one’s beliefs and therefore protected by the First Amendment, it ought to be glaringly obvious to anyone that some people have a helluva lot more freedom of speech then others making this decision horrifically unfair to the vast majority of Americans. Meanwhile state governors like Minnesota’s Scott Walker and others work to revoke collective bargaining rights of public employees and undermine unions so that wealthy investors have power in numbers through corporate investing or interest groups, but most poor, working class and middle class people don’t have the means to pool their resources. Sorry for being so blatantly nonobjective on this one, I hope that even if you disagree with obvious bias, I’ve helped explain the controversy with ‘Citizens United’ a little.
- Freedom of the Press- This is incredibly important not just so that we have the right to publish what we think, feel & believe, but perhaps even more importantly, so that we can have access to a variety of ideas and opinions. Mark Twain once said, “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.” One might paraphrase this today to say that the person who only gets their news from one news source (say a TV network) but refuses to listen to any other outlets and doesn’t want to be bothered by looking up anything to read about the issues is pretty much allowing themselves to be brainwashed. Oh, um, sorry, got a little carried away there. Got that subjective momentum going in the last paragraph and it can be hard to turn off. Point is this- in a participatory representative democracy like ours, voters need to be informed in order to make the best decisions. If you have a vast buffet in front of you but all you eat are hot dogs, you’ll end up malnourished.
- PS- Time and technology have probably evolved this right as much as the Supreme Court has. Let’s face it, in 1791 freedom of the press was for publishers who ran printing presses. Today we generally assume that “the Press” is synonymous with the media. But these days all of us are self- publishing every time we blog, micro-blog, comment, post and perhaps even when we text and email.
- Freedom peaceably to assemble- Like speech and press, this has been expanded to mean freedom of association. In other words, it’s not just about attending a protest march or a sit-in. It also means belonging to a union, a political party, a movement, a special interest group, caucus, club, organization or religion. So as a matter of fact, as much as some of us may not like it, Americans DO have the right to be Communist, or Muslim or White supremacist. The Tea Party, the #OccupyWallStreet and the #BlackLivesMatter movements are all covered by this right, but so are the NRA, the AARP, the NAACP, and the 4-H and FFA.
- And finally the right to petition the government for redress of grievances– These words are eighteenth century legal jargon that in plain 21st century English mean to ask the government to help make things right. Petition= to ask or request. Redress=”to correct (something that is unfair or wrong*).” Grievance= feeling like you’ve been treated unfairly. (*see http://www.merriam-webster.com).
- More bias on my part- it’s pretty hard to ask the government to help you if you dismantle that government. I agree to a degree with limited government, but I don’t agree with eliminating it or making it so powerless that it can’t help you. A lot of politicians use fear to get us to vote for them. Not just fear of terrorists, but fear of the government, as if it is an entity unto itself and that entity is our greatest enemy. But WE are our government- thus the words ‘We the People.’ Government itself is an instrument, apparatus, infrastructure- a TOOL for people to collectively work together toward common goals. That’s why I get irritated when politicians tell us that you can’t trust government- they’re saying that they don’t trust US! Don’t they agree with President Lincoln that government is OF the people, BY the people, and FOR the people?
- So BEWARE most of the time when people start talking loudly about the Constitution, they actually would be opposed to the Constitution if the Constitutional Convention were held today. Whether it’s to protect corporations & the wealthy from regulation, promote what they see as states rights or personal liberty or justify their latent bigotry- most of them could actually be classified as anti-federalists or even pro confederacy. Maybe they even THINK that they support the United States or the Constitution, but anyone who is opposed to equality, civil rights or social contract theory are actually opposed to the most basic Constitutional principled. It may be hyperbole to accuse them of treason or even of lying- but I think that when they tout their allegiance to and reliance on the Constitution, as Inigo Montoya in the ‘Princess Bride’ might say, “you keep on using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.” Frankly, if they’re opposed to Constitutional principles, I wish they’d just own that and be honest with themselves and the rest of us about it.
Once again, my “quick” examination has gotten a lot longer than I intended (and this time, WAY more opinionated that I had intended) be that as it may, I hope it’s gotten you thinking about some of the things that politicians claim to be talking about, when they pretend to be upholders of the Constitution. Next time, Amendments 2-26.