Poverty and brotherhood
Dr. Keith Magee | 2/1/2019, 6 a.m.
Writing to fellow clergy from a Birmingham jail, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., gravely concerned about all who were poor and experiencing inequality, said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
The world, especially America, paused last month to honor Dr. King’s 90th birthday and his life as a global humanitarian. Wouldn’t the greatest birthday gift be to truly identify the other as our brother, sister or family? How does one really love and heal a world if they don’t see their neighbor as themselves?
The global crisis of the poor has affected the consciousness of both America and the United Kingdom. The UK has wrestled to the ground Brexit with no deal. Meanwhile, America is in waiting to determine whether the one who was deemed the “white hope” will be exposed as a traitor. He continues his temper tantrums and daily rants on Twitter.
This mutiny is because, from former President Barack Obama to former UK Prime Minister David Cameron, few seem to adequately identify the group that is rapidly becoming visible among the least of these. According to poverty data of the U.S. Census Bureau reported in September, roughly 12.8 million America children lived in poverty in 2017, with 4,026,000 being white children.
Likewise, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report of Dec. 4 indicates there are 4.1 million children living in poverty in the United Kingdom, with 1,271,000 of them being white children.
In the book “Black Reconstruction in America,” W.E.B. DuBois introduced the concept of the psychological wage. Dr. Du Bois noted that while white laborers received a low wage, “they were compensated in part by a sort of public and psychological wage.” They were given “public deference and titles of courtesy because they were white.”
I’m not so sure that in today’s reality of Caucasian, having access to public parks, pools and water fountains matters so much when they, along with other non-white groups, are equally striving to feed, clothe and house their children.
The 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was actually the awakening of the “Poor People’s Campaign.” Dr. King and his allies were going to the nation’s capital to ask America to be true to the huge promissory note that was signed years ago.
Dr. King said “we are coming to engage in dramatic nonviolent action, to call attention to the gulf between promise and fulfillment; to make the invisible visible.”
In the UK, as in America, those who have become invisible are forcing open the eyes of those who have forgotten them.
This year marks 400 years since the first African immigrants — freedmen and indentured servants — arrived in Jamestown. The British had landed three years earlier, having departed England as King Henry VIII had declared himself head of the new Church of England. These individuals desired a return to a simpler faith and wanted to purify the church. However, these Puritans would use, in part, their religious system to oppress the Africans, forcing them into slavery.
And, yet, these slaves would look for a saving grace from an individual depicted in the like image of their oppressor. That grace would have in it the power to forgive and mount up for civility for themselves and all of humanity.
Unlike America, the UK has no separation of church and state. In fact, 26 bishops are in the House of Lords.
The UK looks to the legacy of William Wilberforce, the abolitionist, or the current impact of churches who care for the needy through food banks and debt counseling or organized homes for refugee families. Selina Stone, a lecturer in political theology at St. Mellitus College, asks the pertinent question, “How will churches respond in the UK and in America to those with their backs against the wall?”
Again, I ask, how does one really love and heal a world if they don’t see their neighbor as themselves?
The writer is senior fellow of culture and justice at University College London and is in pastoral leadership at The Berachah Church in Dorchester, Mass.