Confronting Racism, Extreme Materialism, and Militarism

“We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values … When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”  – Martin Luther King, Jr. April 4, 1967

Martin Luther King Jr. Beyond Vietnam -- A Time to Break Silence  Delivered 4 April 1967, Riverside Church, New York City

[Photo Credit: John C. Goodwin]

April 4, 1967 commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech at Riverside Church in New York City. As I read the transcript and listened to “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” the words and phrases King spoke in 1967 bear striking similarities to what we continue to face in 2017. The persistent extremist rhetoric and legislative actions enacted in the first 100 days by the current president and his administration continue to echo King’s warning about the giant triplets Racism, Extreme Materialism, and Militarism.

When Jesus Christ asked little children to come to him, he didn’t say only rich children, or White children, or children with two-parent families, or children who didn’t have a mental or physical handicap. He said, “Let all children come unto me.” – Marion Wright Edelman

At a minimum, institutional racism is at the root and heart of many of the decisions made by the current administration threatening the viability of black and brown citizens to thrive and contribute to mainstream society.

A careful reading and analysis of the President’s proposed 2018 budget reveals that the cuts to education funding in key areas would total $1.2 billion. This amount eliminates the 21st Century Community Learning Centers programs, which supports before and after-school programs, as well as summer programs.

The elimination of these programs in particular poses a threat to poor communities, but especially to communities of color. Afterschool and summer programs provides  opportunities for children to engage with one another socially, academically, and athletically, which is a foundation for developing competitive and well-rounded young minds. Economically poor communities with chronically underfunded schools are at risk based on the racial makeup of the school.

A recent news source stated, “The schools with more students of color get lower funding than the ones that are 100 percent or 95 percent white.” There must be significant push back from Christian communities to these institutional decisions that put children at risk. Church-based afterschool programs are one solution, as well as partnering with food pantries offering meals before and after school hours.

“For where your treasure is, your heart will be also.” – Jesus of Nazareth, Matthew 6:21

Extreme materialism occurs when government entities, business owners, and corporate executives prefer profit over people. They devalue human life in order to accumulate huge financial gains. One result of extreme materialism is the racialized disenfranchisement that occurs when poor communities are targeted by profit seeking businesses and companies who intentionally use contaminated toxic dumpsites to construct homes, schools, and recreational spaces. Contaminated air and water filters into homes, grocery stores, playgrounds, and schools affecting families, food, the health of children, and public areas.

As the current administration plans to decrease grants and personnel that ensure protective measures within the Environmental Protection Agency, we are sure to see an increase in air pollution, lead poisoning and contaminated water reservoirs, and other health related problems in communities of color, as well as the working poor. Rolling back funding by 31% means a reduction in advancing research to prevent climate change and climate protection, and oil spill prevention programs leaving oceans and rivers vulnerable to environmental disaster for people inhabiting affected areas.

These kinds of cuts and abuses assist the rich and leave creation and humanity at risk. It is both an abuse of power and excessive privilege; the result of extreme materialism for those who already possess the means and access to cleaner environments.                                                                                                 

“I want to live, raise my children, dance at their wedding, and hold my grandchildren close. I want to praise God, and love my neighbor as I love myself. Don’t shoot me, don’t shoot my children, we are not collateral damage. We want to live.”-  An Unknown Activist and Mother

Militarism in the United States is based on government decisions to exercise political and economic power through the use of all forms of violence. The use of violence is targeted primarily on communities of color as a means of social control. 

Mass incarceration is one method. Surveillance is another.

State and local police are presently equipped with technology, military style weapons, and tanks used to discourage, destabilize, and dismantle resistance activism and grassroots movements. Increasing militarism and defense spending has become a priority over issues that guarantee justice for all, such as equal access to education, a clean environment, and safe communities and neighborhoods in which the most vulnerable in society can move beyond mere survival to thriving, creating, and making significant contributions to others. Increasing the military defense budget by $52 billion sends a clear message to the American public and the Christian church about what the government and its leadership values.

As people of faith, we understand that we are required by God to model a particular way of being. Micah 6:8 clearly spells out what we must do to be in right relationship:

“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” 

I invite you to continue reading and listening to the prophetic words of King’s speech given at Riverside Church that 4th day of April in 1967. See the parallels in his analysis of our country’s backward moving trajectory towards further oppression of communities of color. Our response cannot be a silent retreat into the comfortability of our personal spaces, rather we need to respond to God’s call to engage in eradicating and dismantling racism, extreme materialism, and militarism by being part of grassroots movements, protest marches, and church strategy sessions. Together we must mobilize, educate, and restructure our society to benefit all of its citizens.  This is what the Lord requires.


Dismantle Racism: A Call to Action and Engagement

“What does the Lord require of you but to do Justice” Micah 6:8a

God is calling us to actively engage in the work of racial justice by eradicating racism, staying current, and collectively strategizing to inform our congregations, community organizations, and concerned citizens when racism impacts all lives. Below are websites to report racist abuses in our nation, your local church, and communities:

Categories: Column Getting to the Root of It

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