Dodge’s decision to use Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s voice in their 2018 Super Bowl commercial, was quickly, and sharply, criticized. On the surface, the commercial seems to be sentimental and unifying, but the justifiable blowback stems from a common misappropriation and sanitization of King’s revolutionary rhetoric and vision.
Dr. King’s tone in “Letter From Birmingham Jail” should make us all wonder why many gleefully quote him today. It seems many agree with Martin Luther King, Jr. the figure, but not Martin Luther King, Jr. the revolutionary.
King was insistent about the urgency of freedom and justice for the marginalized and oppressed, the opposite of the seemingly disinterested apathetic attitudes of some leaders today.
Dr. King and The American Church
King’s poignant 1963 rebuke make it hard to distinguish whether his admonishment of the American church was most relevant for then, or now.
There are uncomfortable parallels – particularly his sharp criticism of the American church – that should be, and are, taken seriously by churchgoers and pastors today.
Dr. King was a prophetic voice, and he is still speaking to this generation. It is unfortunate that many present-day Americans would vehemently disagree with some of King’s quotes (listed below) had they not known who penned them.
Analyze King’s quotes, not only as historical items, but as echoes of what and who he would be speaking to today. How is it challenging you? What offends you? What do you agree with? It’s good for all of us to wrestle with these words.
“History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.”
“…I have been gravely disappointed with the moderate white. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice… who constantly says ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action.”
“Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill-will. Luke warm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
“Like a boil that can never be cured as long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its pus-flowing ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light; injustice must likewise be exposed, with all of the tension its exposing creates, to the light of human consciences and the air of rational opinion before it can be cured.”
“The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations. He has to get them out. So let him march sometime; let him have his prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; understand why he must have sit-ins and freedom rides. If his repressed emotions do not come out in these non-violent ways, they will come out in ominous expressions of violence. This is not a threat; it is a fact of history.”
“So the question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be?”
“All too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.”
“There was a time when the church was very powerful — in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent — and often even vocal — sanction of things as they are. But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before.”
“If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.”
— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Musical Reflection: Chapter 13: King (Sho Baraka feat. Liz Bailey & Tedashii)