Not Everybody Gets To Be Martin Luther King

“Do Justice.
Love Kindness.
Walk Humbly with God.”

Not everybody gets to be Martin Luther King Jr.

I suppose that’s relatively self-evident. But on the day we celebrate his legacy, it’s an important point not to miss. I happen to believe the next great Civil Rights struggle –the struggle of LGBT justice– is the grandchild of Dr. King’s struggle. (I realize others do not. If you do not, you might want to stop reading now…)

This point about how there’s only one Dr. King also applies to the struggle for LGBT rights, and inclusion in the United Methodist Church.

Take a look at this photograph from the March on Washington. Take a look at the teaming mass of half a million people who gathered on that historic day…

Picture 2

Now, consider this: In this picture, there’s only one Dr. King.

Broadened out, even if you factor in the other leaders of the movement who were standing with Dr. King that day, not everybody gets to be one of them either. Most of the folks there at the March on Washington participated simply be being there. By showing up.

Broadened out even more, that’s how the struggle for Civil Rights actually worked. It wasn’t just Dr. King standing like some Lone Ranger. It was everybody doing their own part.

Some were leaders, like King. Others were legislators, like LBJ and our late friend Barefoot Sanders. Still others were foot soldiers in marches, and sit-ins, and acts of civil disobedience across the land.

But there is one more category, and we must not forget it. It’s the group of folks who never did any of those things. But they quietly and silently allowed their hearts to be changed on the issue of Civil Rights. They watched in all on television. If they talked about it, they did so with family and friends, or at their own church. They started confronting racists jokes. They started pushing back against racists actions, in their own spheres of influence.

I hear people all the time say, “I could never be Martin Luther King Jr.” Or “Ghandi.” Or “Mother Theresa.”

And, actually, that is absolutely true. Not everybody gets to be Martin Luther King. But you are you. And you have your spheres of influence that God has given to you. You have your friends, family, church, etc. And you can do what you can do for the great causes of justice in our world today. You can speak up when the opportunity is there to speak up. You can act when the moment presents itself.

Some of us are ordained leaders in the church. Others are layfolks. Whoever we are, and where ever we live, there are actions we can take that will be “edgy” for our own sphere of influence.

Take them.

My friend, David Lamotte, likes to say:

“You are changing the world, whether you like it or not.”

He’s absolutely right. What you do. What you don’t do. What you say. What you don’t say. They all matter.

You have a role to play in the great struggles of this day, especially the struggles of LGBT people. And you have two great judges who await you:
Your grandchildren.

More and more, and especially on LGBT issues, I ask myself “What will my grandchildren think of what I did, or did not do, to further the cause?”

That is a deeply clarifying moral light for me. I invite you to consider it as well. Because whether you believe the two struggles are metaphorically similar, your grandchildren will assuredly believe they are.

So, no, not everybody gets to be Martin Luther King.

But you get to be you. And as the world’s changes (not “if,” but “as”), what you do is truly important.

So, speak up. Show up. Act.

Whenever God gives you the chance.


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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He is Senior Pastor of The Woods United Methodist Church in Grand Prairie, Texas. For seventeen years, he was pastor at Northaven UMC in Dallas, Texas. Eric is an avid blogger and published author. Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy.

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