I saw someone use this MLK quote on twitter yesterday and I immediately became obsessed with it:
“Any religion that professes to be concerned with the souls of men and is not concerned with the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion in need of new blood.”Martin Luther King, Jr. – Address at the Religious Leaders Conference 11 May 1959
I immediately had to hunt it down, of course, because I find random quotes – even when attributed – suspicious due to the prevalence of people being mis-quoted or mis-cited in those quotes. It turns out this speech he gave has a few different “published accounts” but this one had the quote in it as well as further citation regarding the quote. It was footnoted as such:
King may have adopted this passage from Harry Emerson Fosdick’s The Hope of the World [New York: Harper & Brothers, 1933], p. 25: “Any church that pretends to care for the souls of people but is not interested in the slums that damn them, the city government that corrupts them, the economic order that cripples them . . . that kind of church, I think, would hear again the Master’s withering words: ‘Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”’Footnote from Martin Luther King, Jr. – Address at the Religious Leaders Conference 11 May 1959
I’ve been thinking about this a lot since I found it. First, both of these passages speak to me a lot in terms of my experiences in some large Fundamentalist Southern Baptist/Evangelical churches. The ones I experienced cared a lot about alter calls and claims of salvation, they funded trips to third world countries where they could serve and then “save” people who had never seen a bible, they spoke a lot about accepting Jesus as your savior…but many of them never serve the communities they reside in real ways absent of religion. I remember many years ago reading a story written by a paster called Rethinking the $3,000 Missions Trip.
“Some well-meaning Christians have a theology of mission that seeks to alleviate the spiritual and physical suffering of people far away, but pays little attention to needs here at home.”“Rethinking the $3,000 Mission Trip” – DOUG BANISTER
I’m not trying to harsh on Christian churches that as groups do more charity than any secular organizations, I’m just thinking about all of these things and how I could secularize them.
(Funny sidenote: The first read-through I did of this “secularize” in that previous paragraph said “sexualize” and damn, if that was an unfortunate typo.)
ANYWAY. How do I look at charity and service in a secular way? How do we look at how our society could serve the end goal better – in this case it’s not salvation but productive members of society – than things like Crime & Punishment. I mean, let’s just create a fantasy world for a minute. What if we just dumped all sorts of funding into some sort of Standard Income program and quadrupled our Education budgets to pay teachers better, feed students, and provide counseling and co-op training programs? Can we just imagine for a moment what that world would look like?
Yes. That money has to come from somewhere and the second you propose something like – extreme cuts in military spending, you get people (especially in DoD driven cities like mine) talking about how people will lose jobs and business will close. Or if you propose ending tax cuts for the wealthy or businesses people will argue that our people won’t build businesses here anymore. I get that. I know it’s not as easy as just dumping money where we think it will serve best.
I’m just asking us to just imagine it. Imagine what a world would look like where kids got the counseling they needed at school instead of being expelled. Where we had enough faculty that teachers weren’t overwhelmed and given no option but to kick trouble kids out, creating the perpetual cycle we’re seeing now in a school-to-prison pipeline. What if everyone had enough money to live comfortably and didn’t feel driven to criminal lifestyles due to criminal records. I’m not saying it would be easy, but what if we just shattered our current thinking and shook things up. What if we stopped focusing on punishing criminals and started focusing on rehabilitating them and stopping the cycle that creates them.
I don’t know. There’s no real point in this entry but just finding some discussions around improving churches and me trying to translate those ideas into improving society. Just some mindful meandering this Wednesday morning, I guess.