Martin Luther King Day always brings to mind the unfinished agenda before us as a nation, as neighborhoods, and as individuals. We can claim some progress, but we are so far from the justice King dreamed of that without faith, we might despair. The economic disparity between black and white is not narrowing; it grows apace in our time. The subjugation of certain sectors of society is for the benefit of the few, such a payday lenders in troubled neighborhoods, the default banking system.
I recently learned of the ministry of University Heights Baptist Church in Springfield, where Central’s trustee Dr. Wayne Bartee is a member, in working against the blight of these lenders. This is a vital form of community development, and I applaud their advocacy for the working poor.
Yesterday morning I bought a set of new tires, as my eroding tread was not much help for slick roads. I was able to do this without throwing the household budget into a decision about food or safety in transportation; I was able to do this because I am employed with benefits for such an expense. For many in our community, this need might have precipitated borrowing against the next paycheck and making food insecurity even greater for their family.
Jesus’ proclamation in his hometown spoke of jubilee, “the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:19). His sermon spoke of release, and he did not forget the bondage of poverty. Whether Jubilee was ever fully practiced is contested, but the beginning of his ministry signaled that “good news for the poor” was to be a critical part of his work. If we follow him, it must never be far from ours.
Dr. Wallace S. Hartsfield II spoke at a MLK event in Overland Park yesterday afternoon, sponsored by Unique Finds, a business geared toward justice, owned by Central alum Bob Southard. In thinking about the contemporary state of the larger community, Hartsfield spoke of the strong attribute of diversity, the advantage of unity, and the attainment of humanity. These are interlocking realities, and respect for one another lies at the core of any progress toward transforming structural racism.
His presentation was rich with citations from Dr. King, and he observed that it was when the civil rights leader began to interrogate the economic system that supports racism that his support ebbed. And, ultimately, it cost him his life. His Poor People’s Campaign never materialized, and it remains urgent.
In the white-hot rhetoric of the presidential campaigns, economics is a topic, but candidates rarely address the racial implications—except to denounce immigrant sectors. The “too big to fail” realities rarely consider the “too small to succeed” communities, populated by those tarred with the indignity of poverty. What are we as Christians--white and persons of color--saying about this?
Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares creative leaders for diverse ministry contexts.