MLK: Envy or the Beloved Community?

Robert V. Taylor

The “politics of envy” in the United States is political fodder masking a truth that Dr. Martin Luther King pointed to almost 50 years ago. He said his entire work pointed to one goal – the creation of a “beloved community” of Americans. His prescient words invite a new conversation about who we are.

The Pew Research Center reports that two thirds of Americans believe that conflicts between the rich and the poor are strong or very strong. The stagnant or falling wages for the poor and the middle class over the last decade stands in sharp contrast to increasing wealth held by a few. The Great Recession and the Occupy movement make those data starker.  

The data do not reveal envy of the wealthy.  Instead Pew and the latest Gallup research reveal that most people want jobs, fair wages and opportunities to work and succeed. Fairness is a very different conversation than the envy that some expediently talk about.

It’s not politically fashionable to talk about the poor these days. Those who dare to couch it in language about the “working poor” as if honest honorable work is a bearer of poverty. The political consensus that most of us implicitly support is that it is more prudent to worry about the middle class. It is a false either/or compact. It diminishes all of us by casting some aside.

Marti Luther King believed that the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice.  While we celebrate his leadership on civil rights we generally ignore his leadership on economic issues made plain in his Poor People’s Campaign.

King was clear that civil rights and economic opportunities are questions of justice collectively pointing to the overarching vision of creating a new “beloved community” in the United States. His faith and politics were rooted in how to create that community.

Imagine leaders who lead us to a new sense of oneness as people; who remind us of our need for one another; who celebrate the richness of our collective strengths; who see strength in our diversity and who are not fearful of the truth that none of us prosper unless the well-being of all is possible.

Imagine that leader being you and working intentionally to make a beloved community possible. It’s often said that we get the leaders we deserve. I’m not sure that is true. Instead we often cede the public conversation and leadership to the alpha types who have their own agenda about political power.  All too often we disengage out of exasperation.

There is another path that celebrates Dr. King’s living legacy. Celebrating your leadership and work to bring about the beloved community, you begin to shift the expectations of what kind of society and people we want to be.  King believed that it was possible to “transform opposers into friends” and “transform the deep gloom of the old age into exuberant gladness of the new age.” That possibility lies in your hands; in the possibility of organizing for our oneness when the well-being of all is a value.

This moment in history is an invitation to that dream becoming a reality.

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