Many people working for justice today stand on the shoulders of Martin Luther King Jr. But King’s vision of justice is often... limited and misunderstood [so that] we fail to see how his vision of justice was far wider and challenging that we might have once imagined.
For King, justice was more than a racial issue, more than a legal or moral issue. Justice was a human issue... “The revolution for human rights is opening up unhealthy areas in American life and permitting a new and wholesome healing to take place,” King once told a racially mixed audience. “Eventually the civil rights movement will have contributed infinitely more to the nation than the eradication of racial injustice.” Moral leadership played a profound role in the justice work that King did. He argued that true moral leadership must involve itself in the situations of all who are damned, disinherited, disrespected and dispossessed.... If King were among us today, he would say that it is not enough to look outside ourselves to see the places where society is broken, like our institutions and workplaces that fracture and separate people based on race, religion, gender and sexual orientation. We must also look at the ways we manifest these bigotries.
Often we find that these institutions and work- places are broken, dysfunctional and wounded in the very same ways that we are; thus, being mirrors not of who we want to be, but who we really are. King would remind us that we cannot heal the world if we have not healed ourselves. So perhaps the greatest task, and the most difficult work we must do in light of King’s teachings, is to heal ourselves in relationship to our justice work in the world....
I know that the struggle against racism that King talked about is only legitimate if I am also fighting anti-Semitism, homophobia, sexism, classism, not only out in the world but also in myself. Otherwise I am creating an ongoing cycle of abuse that goes on unexamined and unaccounted for.
In light of King’s teachings I believe that when we use our gifts in the service of others as King has taught us we then shift the paradigm of personal brokenness to personal healing. We also shift the paradigm of looking for moral leadership from outside of ourselves to within ourselves; thus, realizing we are not only the agents of change in society, but also the moral leaders we have been looking for.
Our job, therefore, in keeping King’s dream alive is to remember that our longing for social justice is also inextricably tied to our longing for personal healing.
Rev. Irene Monroe is an African American lesbian feminist theologian. For more of her writings see her website: www.irenemonroe.com