The Dream MLK Had (Won’t Belong to Evangelicals)

The Dream MLK Had (Won’t Belong to Evangelicals) January 18, 2021

Hi and welcome back! Today being Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Day, I’ve had his famous speech ‘I Have a Dream’ on my mind. It’s really revealed so much that was going wrong in America even during his day. Unfortunately, that wrongness still continues to exist today. MLK’s dream has inspired possibly millions of Americans to work toward a better future. It’s just not a future that will be ruled by White evangelicals, is all, which is why they hate it so much and work so hard against it.

march on washington 1963
(History in HD.) MLK in the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

(Yesterday I ran the LSP — I had that topic on my mind for a while and it just had to get out!)

The MLK Speech to End All Speeches.

We have good reason to set “I Have a Dream” on all listicles of the greatest speeches ever. In fact, it tends to be the #1 on lists even of MLK speeches!

Here is the video of this absolutely iconic speech:

And here is its transcript. (This is the source of speech quotes in today’s post as well.)

Decades later, the oratory of Martin Luther King Jr. rings through the bones and stirs the heart and brings stinging tears to the eyes. These are tears of present hopes, future hopes, and most of all the sheer potential of humanity.

MLK speaks here of his dream: to see oppressors move past brutality and cruelty into something far better.

And so this speech speaks of a future that will never, ever belong to White evangelicals, by their choice.

(I know that’s a little SHOTS FIRED. Let me show you why I say that, though.)

White Evangelicalism Centers Itself Around POWER.

First and foremost, MLK’s speech thrums with the desire to find equality, justice, and brotherhood for all humans. He said in 1955:

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. [. . .] Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.

And White evangelicals don’t want that. In an overall sense, they didn’t even in MLK’s day. In The Gathering Storm in the Churches, a classic 1969 book, author Jeffrey K. Hadden discusses the antipathy of White Christians overall — and evangelicals in particular — to Christian-led efforts to combat racism. It really distressed him that White evangelicals were so hostile to ideas like integration and racial justice. His studies and surveys indicated a growing “gap between clergy and laymen” on these issues.

Nothing has changed. If anything, White evangelicals only seem more racist than ever. When we hear a White person going on a huge racist tear lately, does anybody at all wonder what faith they hold? Anybody? I don’t.

White evangelicals do not care about justice. They care about holding absolute power over their enemies. They care about ensuring that those enemies can’t ever push back hard enough to stop them from holding power. And they care about destroying their enemies if they can’t completely crush them underfoot.

White Evangelicalism Opposes Human Rights.

MLK speaks movingly in “I Have a Dream” about the human rights guaranteed by the American Constitution. He says:

There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges. [. . .]

We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: for whites only. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. [. . .]

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.

I’ll never, even in my oldest years, forget the first time I heard his voice ring out with that last line. Nor will I ever forget his audience’s response.

All men are created equal. We hold these truths to be self-evident.

All men are created equal. Self-evident.

Equal.

One might even say:

Inalienable.

And no flavor of Christianity quite opposes human rights advances like its right-wing flavors do. Hardline Catholics? They remind me of insectoid anime archvillains in how absolutely divorced they are from humankindness, compassion, and respect for human rights.

Evangelicals? They’re still in that angry teenage poseur stage. But they’re doing their best to match Daddy’s wickedness on the human-rights front. They fight against human rights causes like it’s their mission statement. And kind of, it is.

The MLK “Dream” Is Slowly Coming True, Just Not for White Evangelicals.

Every generation, it feels like we inch closer and closer to the “dream” MLK describes in his speech. He speaks of his hopes that one day these will happen:

  • “on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood”
  • “even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice”
  • “that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”
  • And the big one: “that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together’

So far, some of that’s happening. But the last one — drawn from the Bible in almost every particular phrase choice — won’t happen at all, ever.

Not for White evangelicals. Not ever. It can’t.

Why Nothing Will Change For White Evangelicals.

The racial unrest of today is part and parcel of White evangelicals’ past legacy to America: the idea that some people were simply chosen by their god to own and control other people, and that this power comes to White men more than any other group simply by dint of accidents of birth and chance — er, sorry, divine will and favor.

For the racists who have always dominated White evangelicalism by both power-level and numbers, it is part of what gives them their sense of superiority over other groups. They will not ever willingly give up their racist ideology because that would put them on the same level. And that idea is abhorrent.

As a result of their own love of power, their ideology oppresses others with no hope of redemption. Everything White evangelicals do centers around growing their own power and denying it to their enemies.

Thus, the worst thing in the world, from their point of view, would be for the equality of MLK’s vision to become American reality. That’d be a world utterly free to reject them and their pathetic control-grabs, one in which all Americans have full access to the human rights guaranteed by our government.

Quelle horreur! That’d be a world gone mad!

Theory vs. Practice.

In theory, White evangelicals like the idea of equality and justice just fine — as long as it doesn’t get too far into their comfort zones (roughly definable as all points south of the North Pole).

But in practice, their behavior completely betrays their deep concern that one day, they might possibly be treated completely fairly and justly rather than as the temporarily-embarrassed tin-pot dictators and mini-Jesuses they all imagine they are.

The worse they behave, the harder they will lose. It’s that simple.

MLK knew that slowly, slowly, justice and human rights will win out over racism. As he said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” It’s a shame that White evangelicals have so willingly chosen to place themselves on the wrong side of that arc, but seriously, nobody’s surprised, right?

But the rest of us listen to this dream MLK had years ago, and oh, we want it. We want it like hawks yearn for the crisp clear sky far overhead. And we will have it whether White evangelicals like it or not. 

Happy MLK Day, friends. May the dream never die.

NEXT UP: Behavior and beliefs — ne’er the twain shall meet for these folks. See you tomorrow!


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A last note: I capitalize “Black” and “White” as races. Here’s some info about this shift.

Also: DO NOT MISS this numnuts of a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ fretting hard over whether or not MLK was even a Christian at all. He’s amazing. We’ll come back to him at some point.

About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even volunteered in church (choir, Sunday School) and married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. She lives with an adored and adoring husband named Mr. Captain and a sweet, squawky orange tabby cat named Princess Bother Pretty Toes. At any given time, she's running out of bookcase space. You can read more about the author here.

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