Today, we celebrate the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.! Several writers and friends from the PNW have joined together to share their personal letters to King in the style of Bishop Woodie W. White. White annually pens his “Dear Martin” pieces that are deep reflections on the state of race relations in the US. For our writers, these short messages reflect the impact that MLK has had on each of their lives and ministry.

In today’s installment, the Rev. Theon Johnson III praises King – and acknowledges how modern technological advances that connect us are still not enough to remedy the ills of a wrongful, damaged system that separates us.

Dear Rev. Dr. King,

Let me begin with the profundity stationed within the simplicity of these words: Thank you. Thank you for dreaming. Thank you for believing in the power of unconditional love. Thank you for embodying a theology that matters.

I’m grateful for your exhortations to do justice. After all, anyone can talk a good talk.

I’m concerned that many people are infatuated with your words at the expense of commitment to your philosophy. The temptation to condense your prophetic orations into palatable sound bites and sanitize your clarion call to action with grandiose monuments is alive and well. Similarly, your invitation to journey on the long road towards freedom lacks the appeal of “liking” and “sharing” issues that are currently trending.

I’m saddened that as much as things change, they seem to stay the same. From Ferguson to New York, violence against black people seems eerily familiar to the violence in Selma and Chicago. I think it’s time to review the Kerner Commission.

Even as black people in America are disproportionately affected by failed public policy, criminal justice brutality, and economic insecurity, many communities have been negatively affected by injustice: Women, LGBTQ Persons and Allies, Children, Immigrants, the Poor, and so many Others who are “othered.”

I’m mindful that technological advances (e.g. mobile devices, social media, etc.) bring the global community together in unimaginable ways. In a world where smart phones with front facing cameras create overnight news journalists who bring the challenges of our world to our fingertips 24/7, I often wonder: How do we use technology responsibly?

Fueled by compassion fatigue, today, we face a growing pandemic – Slacktivism.

You posed a question many years ago that I ponder more often than not: Where do we go from here? I have faith that it is towards a more hopeful future.

Rev, I’m glad you chose to live instead of settling to merely exist. When faced with a similar choice, I (too) hope that I will always dare to live.

With Faith, Hope, and Love,

The Rev. Theon Johnson III serves as an associate pastor of Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco, Calif.


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