Today is MLK Day, a national holiday set aside for collectively remembering, honoring, and recommitting ourselves to the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. This year I’ve been reflecting on the fullness and gravitas of remembering as an act of resistance and restoration.
Remembering is at the heart of divine life. God remembers God’s people even and perhaps especially when they forget God and one another. Having listened to us and taken our needs to heart long after we lose hope, God remembers our hopes and joys, perplexities and sorrows. We are held in God’s memory, because God has entered into an unbreakable bond with us. Story after story in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament illustrate the ways that God remembers, i.e., hears and holds, the cries of all. God especially remembers the forlorn, enslaved, neglected, and oppressed people of Israel. God hears their anguish and remembers God’s own covenant with them. God remembers Noah and the covenant with all creation. God remembers Abraham and Sarah. God remembers Nehemiah and the exiles returning to Jerusalem. The Psalmists implore God to remember God’s people in their predicaments—in their sorrow, frailty, hardship, poverty, injustice—and in their faithfulness and joy.
When God remembers, God restores hope and inverts oppressive power relations. Put another way, God re-members persons, families, and communities. God puts us back together again, not in the same old configurations but in relational patterns marked by equity, peace, and justice. God re-members previously dis-membered communities so that they might flourish and experience what Dr. King so aptly described as beloved community, an inclusive community marked by dignity for all; a community sharing the earth’s resources so that the needs of all are valued and met; a community marked by peace and reconciliation.
Remembering Dr. King today entails far more than posting a few quotes on our social media sites. It entails joining the work that he began and thereby joining God’s work of remembering and re-membering. It entails persistent nonviolent resistance and peacemaking; an unwavering neighborly love; a dogged refusal to dehumanize the so-called enemy; and, a commitment to action and radical restructuring of our social order so that justice and peace might prevail.
We might ask more specifically: How do we remember Dr. King after watching insurrectionists storm into the U.S. capitol building with confederate flags flying and anti-Semitic propaganda emblazoned on their clothes? How do we re-member after the murder of George Floyd awakened a country and world to sanctioned violence against people of color in our country? How do we remember and re-member when so many have lost homes and jobs and lives from a devastating pandemic that has disproportionately impacted black, indigenous, people of color?
One of Dr. King’s sermons, “Beyond Vietnam: Time to Break Silence,” delivered at the Riverside Church in New York City on April 4, 1967, helps us answer these questions (as do his many other sermons and letters):
Speak Out: Silence is betrayal of marginalized and vulnerable populations. Silence also is a betrayal of our own values. Such speaking out against racist, xenophobic speech and policies needs to be persistent. Sporadic speech is not enough to confront the goliath of injustice and terror looming over our country.
Speak out with humility, not self-righteousness: If Dr. King spoke of the “betrayal of [his] own silences,” then how much more so ought the rest of us do the same?! Our moral outrage must be coupled, especially for those with privilege, with a willingness to also stand under the “NO!” of God. Insofar as we perpetuate injustice—both intentionally and unintentionally, consciously and unconsciously, personally and structurally—we are called to confession and repentance, again and again.
Speak and act on many levels: We cannot work for justice in one arena and ignore profound injustice in another. For we are all connected to one another; so are our socioeconomic policies. Dr. King said, “A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind [sic] as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.”
Care for persons and systems: We must care for persons and institutions. Such care entails advocacy and comprehensive change. Dr. King preached, “On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”
Choose nonviolence because all of this work is fundamentally about love: God is love and love is the “ultimate reality.” Which means, among other things, that we must love our so-called enemies, wherever we have created them. When we hate even those who act in hateful ways, we run the risk of becoming like them. We perpetuate the very thing we are longing to end. Saying “NO!” to white supremacy, then, must be accompanied by the hard work of speaking out against it without dehumanizing those who act in these ways. For in doing so, we say “YES!” to the God of love, the God of forgiveness, the God of peace.
On this day of remembering the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., may we participate in this kind of remembering and re-membering that, with God’s help, contribute to justice and peace and cultivate beloved community.
As an affiliated organization and outreach ministry of Mount Olivet Lutheran Church, the retreat center affirms and joins these commitments to racial equity, justice, and reconciliation: Rooted in God’s love for the whole world made manifest in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Mount Olivet Lutheran Church commits itself to promoting equality among all people, opposing racism in all its forms, working for the healing and health of our community, examining our own practices so they better align with Jesus’ vision for the world, and building relationships of trust and solidarity with people in and beyond our congregation so that we may grow together into the people God desires us to be.
In light of these commitments, we are taking the following actions:
- Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat Center will provide one complimentary 24-hour personal retreat package for an individual who is actively leading communities of faith and non-profit organizations whose mission focuses on dismantling racism and other forms of systemic injustice. These retreats can be scheduled on designated private retreat dates as well as midweek dates with available accommodations between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021.
- Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat Center will offer free meeting space and use of all amenities for daytime retreats for churches that identify as black, brown, indigenous, or immigrant and for other communities of faith and non-profit organizations whose mission centers on racial equity, justice, and reconciliation. These day retreats can be scheduled on available midweek days between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021.
- Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat Center will sponsor a series of online retreats and, when possible, in-person events aimed at increasing diversity and cultural competency in organizations, dismantling racism in church and society, and fostering the health and healing of persons and communities impacted by systemic injustice. Full scholarships and/or discounted rates will be available for all of these events.
- Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat Center staff will participate in training in order to enhance the organization’s cultural competency, diversify its work of hospitality, expand its educational events, and host new groups.
*Theresa F. Latini, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat Center and an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA).