The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Day will be celebrated on Monday, an occasion not only to honor the martyred Civil Rights leader’s legacy, but to rededicate ourselves to his vision of social justice for all. This week’s clergy discuss how MLK’s message resonates today within their own religious ministries.
The Rev. Marie A. Tatro
Vicar for Community Justice Ministry, Episcopal Diocese of Long Island
The narrative arc of the Bible is a story of migration: oppressed people journeying from place to place, seeking refuge, finding God in holy places, in seemingly ordinary places throughout God's creation, and finding holiness in one another, since we are all wonderfully made in God's image.
As I am a follower of Jesus, the vows of my baptismal covenant require that I strive for justice and peace among all people, and that I respect the dignity of every human being. As our observance of MLK's prophetic witness draws near, it is especially important to renew those vows. In these times when so many of our sisters and brothers of color continue to be dehumanized by the powers and principalities — whether at the southern border, in prisons, schools or in the streets — my faith deepens my commitment. Our core Gospel message is to embrace the outcast and the most vulnerable among us, and to spread God's love to all.
Along with hundreds of our interfaith partners across Long Island, our diocese will continue to put the beauty and power of God's love into action, resting in our faith that the arc of history bends toward justice.
The Rev. Earl Y. Thorpe Jr.
Pastor, Church-in-the-Garden, Garden City
As a believer and follower of Jesus Christ and the Gospel message, mission and ministry that Christ embodied, my faith is firmly rooted in social justice. This is because the Bible deals with justice within society and the social conditions that were present throughout biblical times. Routinely, the prophets divinely spoke to the communities of faith on how they must deal with unjust societies in their own times, communities that were besieged by oppressive regimes and corrupt powers.
The prophets also spoke of individual responsibility and action. From a Christian perspective, Jesus Christ, being the fulfillment of the Scriptures, personified the ideals of God’s love and justice for humanity and society. Everything about Jesus Christ’s life — his birth, his teachings and ministry, and his death and resurrection — speaks to societal justice. Indeed, Christ’s preferential option for the poor and his mission to the lonely, the least and the left out of society, both theologically and socioeconomically, speaks to the just kin(g)dom of God on this earth. It is revolutionary and radical. It is personal and communal. It is centered on a love ethic that overturns the power dynamics of society and cancels the estrangement of humanity to God.
The love ethic dismantles the structures of a sinful society, reconciles humanity one to another and ultimately promotes an individual’s salvation within the communities of faith. In other words, as a Baptist, there is no faith in Jesus Christ without social justice.
The Rev. Douglas R. Arcoleo
Pastor, Our Holy Redeemer Roman Catholic Church, Freeport
Jesus said: “Go, make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19a). Born from that great commission, and not simply from a commitment to social justice, are the arms of the church, which, regardless of race, language, color, sex or creed, reach out to do for others not the things they want us to do for them, not the things we want to do for them, not the things we would want them to do for us, but rather the things that Jesus has done for us. “As I have done for you, you should also do” (John 13:15b).
In doing such things, we “proclaim the liberating truth of Christ and stimulate greater dialogue and cooperation in building a society ever more grounded in an authentic humanism inspired by the Gospel …” (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI). Whenever these things and/or the right to bear them to others are lacking, we must speak out. “We don't have to curse and go around acting bad with our words,” said the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in his speech “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” “We don't need bricks and bottles … We just need to say, ‘God sent us here to say to you that you're not treating His children right.’”
We the people in pursuit of social justice can learn a lot from King. And the best way to learn it is where he learned it: on the mountaintop from the King of Kings Himself, Jesus Christ!