Ottawa Bound and Back on MLK Day 2012


Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Here in Illinois we honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. each year. In much of the Old South (Red States) this is not a day of remembrance. But even the GOP tries to put a good foot forward by whitewashing the memory of Dr. King. This was a man who like Barack Obama has been called a Communist and worse as a way of alienating the affections of folks of Good Will. The intention was to make him scandalous and to position his push for Equal Rights against the notion of Freedom and Liberty. But sadly he received more recognition from the Nobel Peace Prize offered up by the Europeans than he was ever able to garner from the Old South. In fact it was the ushering in of the Civil Rights Act which completed the transformation of the GOP from the Party of Lincoln to what it has become. And no amount of “happy talk” can wash away the grime.

So today I decided to visit the site of one of the Great Debates held between Lincoln and Douglas in the town square of Ottawa, IL. It is a few miles further west than where I live. Each year we ride the Pumpkin Pie Ride (an invitational bicycle ride) that leaves from the local YMCA about a block east of this mural. So I have seen it many times. What is marvelous is to see the depiction of the animosity of folks from that day in the context of the same sort of thing today.

Slavery is essentially the practice that allows one people to “own” another and to force them to do work which the owners either cannot or are unwilling to do on their own. If you look at Slavery from a business point of view it is a way of “jump starting” the development of an economy without having to outsource the work.

Slavery is not a concept that the Bible has much to say about. Even the scions of the New Testament offer little more than platitudes about being “nice” to your slaves and being “kind” to your masters. Indeed it is the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 23:15-16) which provided the Abolitionist with their reason for supporting runaway slaves (a practice that the early Evangelicals engaged in). Schools like Wheaton College and North Central College were stops along the Underground Railway or at least provided support for those whose homes may have been used in such efforts.

To put all of this in context, Lincoln was the Liberal of his day. The GOP was a party of Liberals who deigned to undermine the business model of a region of the country that relied on the institution of Slavery and which quite rightly felt that while it might be a distasteful enterprise was not something which they though to be a moral conundrum for a country whose Founding Fathers penned the words:

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

New Hampshire:
Josiah BartlettWilliam WhippleMatthew Thornton

John HancockSamuel AdamsJohn AdamsRobert Treat PaineElbridge Gerry

Rhode Island:
Stephen HopkinsWilliam Ellery

Roger ShermanSamuel HuntingtonWilliam WilliamsOliver Wolcott

New York:
William FloydPhilip LivingstonFrancis LewisLewis Morris

New Jersey:
Richard StocktonJohn WitherspoonFrancis HopkinsonJohn HartAbraham Clark

Robert MorrisBenjamin RushBenjamin FranklinJohn MortonGeorge Clymer,James SmithGeorge TaylorJames WilsonGeorge Ross

Caesar RodneyGeorge ReadThomas McKean

Samuel ChaseWilliam PacaThomas StoneCharles Carroll of Carrollton

George WytheRichard Henry LeeThomas JeffersonBenjamin HarrisonThomas Nelson, Jr.Francis Lightfoot LeeCarter Braxton

North Carolina:
William HooperJoseph HewesJohn Penn

South Carolina:
Edward RutledgeThomas Heyward, Jr.Thomas Lynch, Jr.Arthur Middleton

Button GwinnettLyman HallGeorge Walton

The debate that raged in the country at the time of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates was framed in terms that everyone could understand, The Business Model. It went essentially this way, no one part of the country had the right to tell another how to conduct its financial business. It was essentially the precursor to what the GOP would come to term States Rights. It was the pivot point in American History when the Old South was ready to reshape the conversation about self-determination.

Martin Luther King was a “problem child” for the Old South. He was a Southerner by birth and a minister at that. He was educated at the finest schools (Morehouse College and Crozier Theological Seminary). And yet despite being from the solid Middle Class of his era he was unwilling to see the de facto segregation of the Old South continue to spread its way north to the border states. The weak link of the practice down there was to keep folks from voting. In this way they could not gain political traction to elect representatives who could fight for them when it came to determining how their tax dollars would be spent.

The real irony is how incensed todays bigots are over what they deem to be over-reaching by the Obama Administration when it comes to their Constitutional Rights. Yet it was the denial of these very rights to the descendants of slaves in the Old South that formed the basis of the Jim Crow practice that was wide spread in those days. Strict laws were enacted to guard against persons of mixed ancestry from crossing the color barrier to partake in the mainstream experience that was reserved for whites (i.e. “Real Americans” as Dick Armey is found of saying.) The shorthand code for this was the “one drop rule”. That was the amount of Negro blood you had to have to be considered non-white.

Ironically folks like Rush Limbaugh being ignorant of their racist forebears decided to change that dynamic and pronounce Barack Obama to be a “non-black” person because he had at least one drop of non-Negro blood coursing through his veins. Truly the silly season has reached epidemic proportions among the bigots of the Far Right. And with the advent of the Evangelical Church having moved to that side of the ledger many Black Christians have become complacent and even detached with the plight of those who live in poorer neighborhoods or are gay.

The case is being made these days that perhaps Martin Luther King, Jr. would be on the side of the LGBT Movement were he alive today. I really do hope that he would have come to that conclusion, but frankly being a human and subject to the same foibles as everyone else it might not have been so. But he did come to the conclusion during his lifetime that wars (specifically the Viet Nam War) waged on the backs of young men of color who were not being allowed full participation in the freedoms of this country despite having laid down their lives for it was intolerable. He became as it were “weak on defense”. The GOP would have labeled him a traitor or worse in today’s arena of hawkish delight with ongoing wars. With the exception perhaps of Ron Paul most of the GOP candidates of 2012 have been hawks.

The historians are right I think in declaring the the War Between the States was anything but “civil”. Southerners then as now did not feel that this was a war over Slavery. It was not a conflict over whether Slavery was a practice that was evil or good (depending on your perspective). It was clearly about who got to determine how the South’s business model was structured. Abolishing slavery would have been akin to forcing the owners of fabric mills to go bankrupt since the cost of labor to retrieve the raw materials (i.e. cotton) would have been prohibitive. And add into the mix the fact that those who had no issues with slavery felt the way they did about Great Apes today. The slave did not deserve the right to personhood. He or she was simply property.

Sadly the facts are that the Founding Fathers did not include persons of color in the notion that “all men are created equal” any more than they would have applied that thinking to Great Apes today. Africans or Negroes were not considered either intelligent enough to understand the vagaries of citizenship or personhood. It was only the meddling of the Evangelicals and the GOP (i.e. Abolitionists) of that day that was causing the friction between the two halves of the country. And since the debate between Lincoln-Douglas centered around self-determination little thought was actually given (by those who listened to them verbally spar in Ottawa, IL all those years ago) to the feelings of the slaves themselves. That same uncaring attitude is directed at blacks today and especially at gays.

My position on Gay Rights has changed since the ascendancy of Barack Obama to the Presidency. Why? First because of the seemingly naked hatred being exhibited towards him purely because of his racial makeup. When a person like Rush Limbaugh can command an annual salary of $50 million for saying the kinds of hurtful things he does then I feel compelled to stand up and be counted as not being among those willing to tolerate this behavior. It is offensive and unfair to clamor for one’s Constitutional Rights while denying the respect that every President earns by having won the election that put him or her in office.

I’ve voted for Democrats and Republicans throughout my voting history at all levels of government. But I no longer can stomach the idea that the party my parents grew up belonging to has become a cauldron of haters. It offends me very deeply. The Southern Strategy has revitalized the bigots and racists of America and they have sought in every way possible to silence the cries for full participation in the civil life of the United States of America. I wonder if the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and King were not the opening salvos that announced the kind of civil discourse we have today. It is a sad day for me when I think that three men had to die because there were those who were unwilling to concede personhood to anyone outside their genetic circles.

We need (especially in the black churchgoing community) to retract our heads from our anuses when it comes to the new struggles for civil rights going on in our midst. People regardless of their sexual orientations deserve the same rights as everyone else. We claim that our reasoning for denying them the right to marriage is because it is an openly stated sin in the New and Old Testaments. And that is true. But John 7 lets us know that adultery was considered a stoning offense even in New Testament times. Yet Christ did not seek to spur on the stoning of a woman caught up in that transgression.

The church is to be the place where everyone regardless of their condition is welcomed. I often think of what the Alcoholics Anonymous tradition could teach us. They welcome folks who are struggling with addictions. They don’t judge for that is reserved for God, not for us sinners. I can only imagine the “flack” that Peter must have endured when he had his rooftop vision from which he drew the conviction that the dietary laws of the Old Testament were no longer needed. The hard-liners of his day must have had fits.

Even today there are folks who want to silence women in churches (to keep them from serving as priests or ministers) based upon the injunctions of the Apostle Paul. Clearly the Almighty has either “changed his mind” or we humans have begun to expand ours where interpretations of Scripture are concerned.

It was not very long ago that you had to consider the narratives of the Old Testament (indeed all of Scripture) as literally true. But that has presented problems for pastor and clergy who feel uncomfortable insisting that the Earth is only 6,000 years old. Nearly half of clergy no longer espouse that position. I suppose those who believe that the Adam and Eve tradition is literal have ways of explaining where their sons found wives which were not incestuous or inconsistent with the narrative as provided. Frankly, rather than wage verbal war with others over these things I would think that the proper way to defend Marriage and the Church is to show love in ways that non-believers have never seen.

When we no longer are the group defending marriage while our own families disintegrating (through divorce) at rates as fast as the general population and when our priests and pastors are not making the headlines because of acts of pedophilia and adultery and plain old-fashioned debauchery then I will be happiest. As sinners we are subject to the same rules as every person whom we deem unfit to be in our midst because of their sexual orientation, namely spiritual death.

My understanding of Scripture is that sin is not hierarchical in the way that civil law is. God is absolutely holy. And for that reason he does not tolerate any violations of his laws. That means that everyone is guilty of abomination. He did not send his son to die on the cross just to keep gay men and women from going to hell. He died for each and every one of us. For those who lie, cheat, steal, and even think things in their hearts upon which they have never taken action. He died for bigots and racists and haters. Why? Because we are all guilty of sin and are subject to death. That to me is an awesomely frightening reality. It does not make me want to point the finger at anyone other than myself.

And it makes me want to shout to the rooftops that salvation from sin is provided by means of Grace. Nothing I have done in my life makes me worthy of this unmerited favor. And for that reason I cannot and will not look upon another human being and deny them personhood in my heart or civil laws. We all need to get our heads extracted from our spiritual anuses and smell the fresh air of salvation and feel the warmth of the sunshine provided through the Atonement of Christ on the Cross. If there are to be sufferings on the Day of Judgment then so be it. But I am content to wait for that situation to happen on its own. I am certainly not capable of meeting out punishment any more than others since I too am a sinner.

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