Faith and Politics at King Dedication

I haven’t yet read complaints that The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial dedication ceremony was a dangerous church/state hybrid, but surely those will come as the event felt, to some, like a mix between a church service and a political rally, with thousands in attendance and multitudes more (myself included) watching on TV. &

Worship in Action

“With all the smiling and handshaking going on, you would swear you were at church, welcoming the visitors after the morning’s announcements. But if you closed your eyes and listened, you would think you’d landed at a campaign event,” wrote Kenrya Rankin at Loop21. “We might have been there to honor the legacy of a black leader of days gone by, but the legacy of the black leader of today loomed large.”

Likewise, Religion News Service’s Adelle M. Banks said the event blended worship and a call to action. “Held during the traditional Sunday morning worship time, the ceremony featured choirs, gospel artists Mary Mary, and Aretha Franklin singing one of King’s favorite hymns, ‘Precious Lord,’” said Banks. “More than 200 churches contributed $1.8 million to the $120 million memorial, for which $117 million has been raised.”

Political and Partisan?

Dignitaries’ response to the ceremony “was enthusiastic but slightly reserved,” according to The Root’s Cynthia Gordy. But the reaction of those gathered on the National Mall was “more emotional,” she said. “During the president’s speech, which visitors could see on two jumbo screens flanking the stage, chants of ‘four more years’ erupted from the crowd.”

This was a problem for Christian Post reporter Napp Nazworth, who described the dedication speeches as “highly partisan” and noted that many connections were made between King’s legacy and the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement.

March to the Library Instead

In a slightly sardonic nod to the event and the OWS movement, Washington Post local columnist Courtland Milloy advised D.C. school children to overcome by marching to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library to devote themselves to academic excellence.

“Long after Occupy DC has decamped from the city and the protests over economic inequality have faded from memory, you’ll still have to occupy those classrooms and continue to struggle against educational inequity,” said Milloy.

More Complaints About Missing Words

Perhaps taking a cue from poet Maya Angelou, two men complained about missing words on the monument.

Your Black World coalition founder Dr. Boyce Watkins, who declared in advance of the ceremony that that he wouldn’t attend, yesterday criticized the memorial for failing to include the words racism and black.

“I am not surprised that in a nation where discussing racial inequality is politically costly, that this issue would be left off the table,” said Watkins. “If Dr. King had not been a Black man in America, he would never have become Dr. King.”

And, noting the faith that motivated both King and that the Civil Rights Movement, Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, Director of the Christian Defense Coalition in Washington, D.C, issued a press release complaining that God is absent from the monument.

“Not to include any mention of ‘God’ in the quotes at the memorial is a betrayal of the life, legacy and teachings embraced and lived by Dr. King. I think he would have been stunned and disappointed to see this oversight.”

What do you think?

Did the dedication ceremony strike an appropriate “walk the talk” tone or was it an uncomfortable mix of church and state? Does the monument itself accurately reflect King’s legacy or is it hindered by its location on public land?