5 Reasons Why We’ve Let MLK Down

Every generation seems to be blessed with at least one prophetic voice, and the generation before mine had MLK. However, as I reflect upon King’s dream, I can’t help but honestly admit, that in so many ways we have failed to listen to this modern prophet. I fear that if King were to see us today, he’d be crushed to see the ways in which we have failed to carry his dream forward. I believe we must cultivate and elevate new prophetic voices to continue his legacy for a new generation, as we strive to defeat oppression in all forms. To get there, I think our generation would be best served to focus on these specific areas where I believe, we have utterly failed to keep King’s dream alive:

5. The military beast is still growing strong, while programs of social uplift will get one labeled a “socialist” or “liberal”.

In his “Beyond Vietnam” speech, King said:

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Unfortunately, we have not learned from this. In our nation, we corporately worship the golden calf of defense spending- pouring enough into weapons to eradicate many social ills in parts of the world. With every debate on spending, the military machine gets a free pass as the beast grows bigger and bigger. We live in a world where the United States is known for indiscriminately bombing weddings without much of a public outrage, but as soon as a person is caught misusing their EBT card, our newsfeeds clog with people who are furious at the injustice.

4. Some cities in America have declared it open season on people who are not white, with police routinely detaining and searching them without probable cause or a search warrant.

Commonly called “stop and frisk”, in 2014 Blacks and Latino’s are unable to walk our streets without the threat of being harassed by law enforcement, and are not able to go about their business without fear that their rights will be violated by those who are called to “serve and protect”. So much for judging people based upon the “content of their character”.

This 13 minute documentary is a good way to get you up to speed:

3. We live in a society that incarcerates black men at shocking rates.

We’ve long known that America’s justice system is deeply flawed and disproportionately targets racial minorities, such as sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine versus powder cocaine, the application of the death penalty, and incarceration rates of minorities. However, the situation may actually be more unjust than previously realized. In Invisible Men: Mass Incarceration and the Myth of Black Progress, Becky Pettit shows that flaws in previous data gathering have missed how serious the black incarceration rate is today, adjusting previous estimates to reflect that nearly 70 percent of young black men will find themselves behind bars at some point in their lives.

When we combine laws that unjustly target minorities and combine that with the new concept of for-profit prisons that encourage judges to sentence offenders to the maximum sentence in order to maximize profits (something that’s creating a new form of slavery in order to support our expanding military), we see that not only have we failed MLK, we’ve failed at achieving even a moderate amount of justice in our country.

2. In the year 2014, our nation still finds it acceptable to execute people for being black.

Case in point, the upcoming execution of Duane Buck who is set to die by lethal injection in Texas. While Mr. Buck’s guilt of murder is not in doubt, the fact that he is black was actually used in court to justify the death sentence instead of life without parole. As reported by Red Letter Christians:

“Mr. Buck’s 1997 capital sentencing hearing in Harris County, the trial prosecutor elicited testimony from a psychologist that Mr. Buck posed a future danger because he is black. The prosecutor relied on this testimony in arguing in favor of a death sentence. The jury then found Mr. Buck would be a future danger and sentenced him to death.”

The fact we’re still using a person’s race as evidence in life and death sentencing hearings ought be something all decent human beings find disgusting.

Finally, the #1 way we’re letting MLK down:

1. Stand Your Ground laws continue to demonstrate that in the eyes of the law, a white life is more valuable than a black life.

If the Trayvon Martin case proves anything, it’s that the Stand Your Ground laws provide legal protection for violent bigots to get away with murder, as long as you can mutter “I didn’t feel safe”. As the Christian Post reported, FBI data shows:

“When a white person kills a black person, it is far more likely to be considered a justifiable homicide than when a black person kills a white person or a black person kills a black person. In states that have SYG laws, though, the difference is even greater. In states that do not have SYG laws, a white person is 250 percent more likely to be considered justified in killing a black person than a black person is to be considered justified in killing a white person. In SYG states, though, that difference increases to 354 percent.”

Sure, the justice system is horrible and racially biased, but the Stand Your Ground laws make things infinitely worse because they allow the common citizen to become judge, jury and executioner– something that sadly, will continue to disproportionally impact racial minorities.

Yes, it seems every generation has had a major prophetic voice who has called such a culture to repentance– and the previous generation had MLK. It is unclear who that voice is for our culture today, and I think that’s for good reason: instead of a single prophetic voice I believe that God is calling on us to raise up small, individual prophetic voices and join them together so that we can in unity and solidarity, tell our nation and culture to REPENT. Not just of the 5 issues I listed, but also of the 87 other examples I could have.

We’ve let MLK down, but it doesn’t have to always be that way– we can join our voices together and demand an end to state sanctioned oppression of racial minorities in America.

We can press forward with the dream that one day, people will be judged based upon the content of their character instead of the color of their skin, by being subversive culture-changers who refuse to let the status quo continue any longer.

Together, I believe we can revive MLK’s dream, and be the collective prophetic voice that a post-modern America desperately needs.

About Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey, is an Anabaptist author, speaker, and blogger. His first book, Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus (Release date, August 2014), tells the story of his journey out of lifeless religion and into a fresh expression of Christianity. He is also a contributor for Sojourners, Red Letter Christians, Evangelicals for Social Action, Mennonite World Review, has been a guest on Huffington Post Live, and is one of the CANA Initiators. Ben is also a syndicated author for MennoNerds, a collective of Mennonite and Anabaptist writers. He is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (Theology & Missiology), is currently a Doctor of Missiology/Intercultural Studies student at Fuller Seminary, and is a member of the Phi Alpha Chi Honors Society for biblical scholars. Ben lives in Auburn, Maine with his wife Tracy and his daughter Johanna.

You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter.


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