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The On Being Project

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What Would Brother Martin Say?

What Would Brother Martin Say?

On Monday of this week, I had the great honor of being invited by the family of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to his church, the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, to speak at its 49th commemoration of Dr. King. I was asked to speak on the theme of what Brother Martin would have to say to America today.

What a joy and an honor to stand in the midst of the family and the community that has loved on Martin, and has produced a Martin King, a Coretta Scott King, and others. I was moved to tears to be on the stage with Dr. King’s sister (Dr. Christine King Farris) and his daughter (Dr. Bernice King), who both resemble him so much, in both form and spirit. How powerful to see Bernie Sanders connect Dr. King’s message to one of economic justice for today, and to have Rev. Michael Pfleger speak so passionately on the need for the people of faith to be on the right side of history. How his toric to see us vow to honor Martin by carrying on his struggle against racism, materialism, and militarism on what is the 50th year since the famed Riverside Church speech, and to have old and young, black and white, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim people talk about how Martin would want us to bring love back into the public square, and see it manifest as justice.

Here are the words that I had prepared for the talk there. You can also see the talk here.


We come from a long line of people who teach us that if you love the folk, you tell ‘em the truth. And we’ve come here to speak some truth today. The truth of the matter is that Dr. King, whom we all love, weeps in his grave to see what is happening to his beloved America, and to have a man who has normalized and mainstreamed racism and sexism assume the highest power in the land. He might be the highest power in the land, but he’s not the highest power in Heaven.

What do we have to say?

Martin tells us: “There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.”

He was disappointed in so-called moderates who preached the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. And we are disappointed in our brothers and sisters of faith who acquiesce in the face of this rising wave of racism and xenophobia, and to watch others roll back voting rights that John Lewis and others shed their blood for.

Don’t tell me that you think the Bible and the Qur’an are literally true until you take Matthew 25 to be literally true, showing your compassion for the poor, the orphan, the needy, the widow, and the stranger.

Don’t tell me that you love God unless you show that love by loving God’s children, starting with those who find themselves at the moment weak and vulnerable.

Don’t tell me how great your faith is as you shut the door on the homeless and the refugee, cut healthcare to tens of millions, deny housing programs and education programs, and food for the hungry.

This Muslim child of Martin and this Jewish child of Martin (Bernie Sanders) know that Jesus came to heal, not to cut healing to millions.

Brother Martin told us that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. We are entering a long-distance struggle. The arc of the moral universe is long, and if we want to bend it towards justice then men and women of good will have to stand up, reach out, hold hands, and say to each other: “I cannot be who I ought to be, until you become everything that you ought to be.”

We are in this together. Together. Together.

We might have come on different ships, but we are all in the same boat right now.

The great Muslim poet Rumi told us:

You and I
have to live
as if you and I
Never heard
Of a you,
and an I.

This years marks the 50th anniversary of when Martin stood in Riverside and warned us about a giant triplet of evil (racism, materialism, and militarism) that is still haunting us.

Racism is still with us, with the historic racism against black folks and Native Americans now extended to Muslims, refugees, Hispanics, and others.

Materialism is still with us. In the richest nation in the history of the planet, we have 20 percent of our babies living in poverty.

And what to say about militarism, when we are droning innocents to death in seven countries… Martin taught us that a nation that spends more on its military than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death. We don’t wish spiritual death for America, but we’ve got to fix our ways and redeem the soul of this nation.

Some of our politicians tell us that we don’t have money for our babies, we don’t have money for our elderly, we don’t have money for our sick, we don’t have money for our schools, and we don’t have money for our inner cities, but we somehow seem to have enough money to spend billions of dollars on wars of choice that neither keep us safe nor make the world a better place.

Something is wrong with us, Martin says.

For Martin, to make a connection between racism here and militarism there wasn’t a political manifesto, but came out of love for all of God’s children.

We’ve got to love each other enough to tell each other the truth:
Love and empire don’t go together.
Love and the military industrial complex don’t go together.
Love and racism don’t go together.
Love and bombs don’t go together.

Let us hang on to this LOVE.

Brother Martin told us that love is not some emotional bosh. It is not heart emojis. Love is more than philía and éros. Above all it’s agápe. We Muslims know that love is eshq — love is the unleashing of God on Earth. Love is what brought us here, love is what sustains us here, and that same love is what will carry us back home.

Yes, Brother Martin tells us that love is still the answer.

This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in:

“Let us love one another, for love is God.”

As a Muslim, we know that God is al-Rahman and al-Rahim, the source of all mercy, all love, and all compassion.

Let us become this strong, fierce, and unconditional love. Let us keep track of this love, because it is when this love moves into the public square that we call it justice.

It is this love that will trump hatred.
It is this love that will trump racism.

With this faith, with this love, as we say in North Carolina,
right can be actualized,
justice can be mobilized,
meanness can be neutralized,
LOVE can be organized,
and the Beloved community can be realized.

May God bless you,
May God bless the family of Dr. King,
May God bless Ebenezer Baptist Church,
May God bless the 5th Congressional District,
May God bless all the peace-makers,
May God bless America, and
May God bless the whole of humanity, with absolutely no exceptions.

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