Soulful Leadership on Martin Luther King Day

Today, millions of Americans commemorate Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King with speeches, service projects, and interfaith prayer events.  King’s “I have a dream” speech will be quoted frequently and Americans will remember his fight for racial justice, how far they’ve come on that front, and (not frequently enough) how much work still remains to be done before America becomes a nation in which people are “not judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” 

At the same time, King’s other areas of focus will be largely ignored.  Toward the end of his life, King exhibited the courage of soulful leadership by emphasizing the importance of overcoming systemic economic injustice.  He also addressed the military industrial complex, and the unnecessary and evil push for war.   In addition to the service projects and speeches about King’s dream for racial justice, we would do well to be spurred to action by King’s vision for economic justice and a world at peace, two areas of desperate need.

For example, in King’s day, economic inequality in America was gradually being addressed.  From 1945 to 1980, Americans in all income brackets enjoyed increasing prosperity.  Now the situation is different.  From 1980 to the present, the wealth disparity in America has increased dramatically, with the bottom 90% of the population showing no real growth in income and the upper 1% roughly tripling their income:

The top 1% of Americans now take about a quarter of all income. For people of color, the wealth disparity is even more pronounced. Remembering Dr. King should include working to reverse this economic disparity.

Furthermore, while Dr. King addressed the sin of the Vietnam War and the military industrial complex supporting it, America finds herself still perpetuating these evils, albeit under a different guise.  For example the current push in the U.S. toward war with Iran has very little to do with Iran posing a real threat, and much more to do with our need for an enemy and our propensity toward using war as a foreign policy instrument.  When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  We are beating the drums of war and provoking Iran into “firing the first shot.” Remembering Dr. King should also include working to avoid war with Iran, through diplomacy and negotiation.

On MLK Day 2012, let’s lead from our souls, as King did. Let’s honor Dr. King by addressing not merely some, but all of the various areas of his concern.  The specters of racism, economic injustice, and war continue to rear their ugly heads among us, and we need to work relentlessly on all fronts.  Dr. King would expect no less.

10 Responses to “Soulful Leadership on Martin Luther King Day”


  1. 1 Kenneth Haase January 16, 2012 at 9:49 pm

    Dr. King reminds of the biblical understanding that justice is about all of society, not just it’s laws or government. A concern for economic justice and global peace is not a distraction from a concern for racial justice, but the broader concern which embraces it.

  2. 3 Jane Taylor January 17, 2012 at 2:03 am

    Our journey, our challenge, as it has been and will be…. we accept no less!

  3. 5 Martha Hopewell January 17, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    Thank you for sharing the fuller picture of Dr. King’s message and work.

    He got it!! More of us need to make these connections, which you describe clearly here, Margaret.

    The man truly was/is a hero.

  4. 7 therooflesschurch January 21, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    I see Martin Luther King Jr. as more than simply a civil rights leader. To me, he was a spiritual leader and a healer. Recently I learned from an African proverb that a healer is an awakener of those who have slept too long. That is what I feel MLK Jr. came to do.

  5. 9 Andy Drance February 17, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    Thank you for your very thoughtful article, Margaret. The above comments are to the point, as well. It seems that there are so few voices that are carrying the important message of economic justice and the need for peaceful solutions in international affairs. Thank you for being one of them, and attracting other voices in your newsletter.

  6. 10 executivesoulblog February 17, 2012 at 7:49 pm

    Thank you, Andy. Yes, there is a need for more voices to trumpet these concerns. Thank you for joining in and lifting your voice, too.


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