At one time, I probably had the "I have a dream" speech memorized. In my fraternity house in 1968, it was played late night every night--it is indelibly etched in the folds of my brain--so I'm glad we have a Martin Luther King Day. It is not, however, an unmixed blessing.
We celebrate the domesticated Martin, the Martin of the "I have a dream" speech--the safe Martin, the one who inspires, but does not critique or challenge. Every city in America has a Martin Luther King Boulevard. How many boulevards are named for Malcolm X? We celebrate the Martin Luther King who encouraged blacks to hang in there and inspired whites to change their ways--the Bringer of Peace and Concord Between the Races.
There actually is some truth in that, but it is not the whole picture. Dr. King was a firm progressive, a believer and advocate for economic justice as well as social justice. If Dr. King were with us today, we all know that he'd have some choice words for the bankers of our nation--and the government, too, for letting them get away with it.
King talked about Rauschenbusch and supported the "social gospel," which is the dangerous idea that being a Christian means following Jesus. If Dr. King had lived, his would have been a strong voice against the so-called "prosperity gospel," which is materialism dressed up in faux-Christian guise, and a strong voice for the Beloved Community, which, in the four gospels, is known as the kingdom of God.
Now, of course, everyone lauds Dr. King. Forty years ago, however, many hated him and wanted him dead. Americans can pat themselves on the back for having produced a Martin Luther King. They ought also to ponder and meditate on why so many of their fellow countrymen hated him in the first place.
I'm glad we have a Martin Luther King Day, not because we need a day of hypocritical self-congratulation on How Far We've Come, but because having a day for Dr. King might prompt someone to want to learn more about him, who might then catch a vision of the Beloved Community, and be inspired to work for its realization.