|Dear Dr. King,
This month we mark the beginning of the third year of a global pandemic due to COVID-19. It has robbed the human family of over five million citizens including over eight hundred thousand people in the United States.
This pandemic has impacted all of society while millions of people are on the move due to forced migration because of climate, food insecurity, and violence. The fight for equal rights, equal justice, and protection of voting rights is still a priority for those who value your prophetic wisdom. As wealth and income disparity widen the chasm between the rich and the poor, we live with your challenging words today. “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?”
Your words and witness speak loudly to the Church, society, and elected leaders at every level of government. What are we doing to ensure that the welfare of all citizens and the common good are not sacrificed on the altar of partisan politics and the selfish pursuit of power plus profit?
Dr. King, to say you are missed is an understatement. Many new voices have been added to the thousands of leaders of different generations and cultural communities calling for response to the global climate crisis and the cries for free and fair elections across the globe. In your 1957 speech “Give us the Ballot” you challenged America to remove restrictions from voting for blacks so that honesty could be enshrined in the words “We the people.”
The right to vote allows the citizens to shape a government that ostensibly works for the benefit of every part and every person in the society. We still have impediments to voting. According to data provided by the American Civil Liberties Union, “Across the country, 1 in 16 black Americans cannot vote due to disenfranchisement laws. In South Dakota, 32 percent of Native Americans cite travel distance as a factor in deciding to vote. 18 percent of persons with disabilities reported difficulties in voting in 2020.” Over 21 million U.S. citizens do not have qualifying, government issued photo identification. Latin-X and black Americans reported more difficulty getting off work to vote. If the question is, who’s affected by voter suppression? The answer is all of us, because democracy is weakened and equality is diminished when voting is suppressed.
Dr. King, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act is proposed legislation that would restore and strengthen certain portions of the 1965 Voting Rights Bill. Congressman Lewis who marched with you in the 1960s continued until his death championing the rights of the marginalized, including those in the LGBTQ+ community, Black Lives Matter, and those who would remove barriers to voting.
This voting rights legislation would restore preclearance requirements for changes to certain states’ voting laws if they are resulting in discrimination. While in the past protection of voting has been supported by the majority of democrats and republicans together, this is not the reality today.
Even more troubling than the debate about voting and fair elections is the assault on truth and absence of grace and civility. One answer to making voting more user friendly and a day to celebrate the participation in democracy is to make presidential election day a national holiday.
On the matter of civility and unity, your words about the moral imperative of love are most helpful. “Love is the heartbeat of the moral cosmos.” We cannot experience unity nor practice civility if we continue to count others as enemies to be defeated or diminished. May new voices continue to pick up the mantle for justice that you carried without apology. May our midnights of disappointment give way to new days of beloved community.
Cheer us on, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., from the balcony of heaven. Pray for all of us to walk with the audacity of faith in the future, blowing the trumpet of hope, wearing the garment of love.
“Dear friends, if God loved us this way, we also ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. If we love each other, God remains in us and his love is made perfect in us.” 1 John 4:11-12 (CEB)
Bishop Julius C. Trimble
Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church