October 4, 2011 at 6:24am
We face the fierce urgency of now, either we act decisively and purposefully or confront economic, political and social chaos. Western capitalism is on the verge of collapse and catastrophe. The crisis is systemic. It is what Marx called a momento mori, a reminder of death. The economic crisis is compounded by war and the ideological preparation for new wars. The people are confused , uninformed and leaderless. The ruling elites are more and more seeing fascism and other forms of the dictatorship of the most reactionary forces of the capitalist class as a real and living option. Most black churches, rather than calling for action, preach quietism and submission. Martin Luther King starting with his graduate studies at Crozier Theological Seminary thought and acted differently; in the face of repression and war he proclaimed that Christians must act to challenge injustice and war. He proclaimed the fierce urgency of now; the Christian and moral imperative to act and to sacrifice one’s self for the larger interest of humanity. While a graduate student at Crozier Theological Seminary he learned lessons from his studies of German Catholic and Protestant Churches during the time of Hitler. Most churches and churchgoers were silent as Hitler and his Nazi party rose to power, as they attacked and outlawed unions,leftwing political parties, Jews, homosexuals and others. Most Christians interpreted Christian love and pacifism so as to justify inaction, quietism and in many instances collaboration with the Nazis. As WWII was started and as it intensified a small group of Christian pastors concluded they must act. A young pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and others decided they must do something dramatic; something that would seemingly go against traditional interpretations of Christian love and pacificism. They agreed upon a plan to assassinate Hitler. In the interest of peace and in keeping with their pacifist commitments and duty to love one’s neighbor as oneself they agreed they had to eliminate the head of the Nazi regime. Their plot failed , Bonhoeffer was arrested and executed several weeks before the end of the war. King learned from Bonhoeffer’s expression of Chrisitian love as a call to act against evil. He also drew lessons from the German churches’ submission to unjust power and its failure to challenge nazism. White supremacy and segregation, King reasoned, was an evil and unjust racial system, in many ways comparable to nazism. It was the duty of Christians to oppose it; it was a moral duty to act. Hence, King’s articulation of Christian love was anchored in action.To be a Christian was to be committed to action. Christian love ,for him, was a revolutionary impulse. He spoke , therefore, of the fierce urgency of now; that is the urgency to act in the face of oppression, war, poverty and economic exploitation. He insisted “Time waits for no man” and was fond of quoting the Turkish poet/philosopher Khalil Gibran, “The moving finger writes and having written moves on”. As the capitalist economic system descends to its deepest crisis in living memory and with it the prospect of unimaginable human suffering, combined with war, the answer is collective action. King was accused of being a communist because of his attachment to the poor and the oppressed and his opposition to imperialism, colonialism and war. Now more than ever we need a Christianity in the spirit of King. Now more than ever we need an anti-war and pro poor people, pro-working class Christianity. We need an anti-fascist Christianity. Like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the anti-Hitler Christians in Germany and Martin Luther King and the courageous civil rights fighters we need a revolutionary Christianity. A courageous Christianity of the poor.