taking the words of Jesus seriously

It’s the week after MLK Day, 

and the memes, like Christmas ornaments,  

have been put away  

after the occasion of their use.  

Until next year.  

The photos, like wrapping paper,  

have served their purpose. 

The inspirational quotes,  

like Hallmark cards,  

find their way to their resting places. 

Too meaningful to discard  

yet somehow not practical enough  

for daily display.  

It’s the week after MLK Day.  

But it seems like 53 years.  

Words that could have been spoken 

53 weeks ago. A lifetime ago. Yesterday.  

Will be spoken again next year. 

It’s the week after MLK Day  

And the cause,  

like the cross,  

celebrated with a holiday.  

But not taken up  

and carried. 

READ: The Ministers of Insurrection

Every January, many of us brace ourselves for all of the memes that  are to come on MLK Day. Memes that not only misuse the words of  King but use them against King in the name of King. This is nothing. new. The path for this misuse of teachings has been well rehearsed in the form of using the words of Jesus against Jesus in the name of  Jesus. This is the world in humanity’s image.  

These memes that center around “choosing love not hate” are largely  calls for peacekeeping, not peacemaking. They are largely calls for a convenient silence over true justice and equity. 

Some are even posted by those living under the fantasy that the vision of King and the vision of Trump are compatible. Let us not  forget that two days before leaving office, literally on MLK Day,  the former President released the 1776 report justifying slavery and  the 3/5ths Compromise. This is what evil looks, feels, and sounds like. Although anything can be twisted to fit into a cultural Christianity, the words and intent of the 1776 report are nothing short of anti Christ, because the slaveholder religion that it is rooted in is anti Christ. If King were here, he would be naming that.  

It is important to note that, in his time, King was not supported by the majority of Christians, white or black. If he were here now, we wouldn’t have a holiday in his name, because he wouldn’t allow us to  subject him to the Santa Claus-ification that has been thrust upon him since his death. He would not allow us to relegate him to “Benevolent Uncle” status and act as if all he wanted was for us to “all get along.” That was Rodney King, not Dr. King.  

The misuse of his words imply that King was primarily teaching a minority people how to suffer well rather than pushing for personal change within the hearts of, and systemic change within the structures of, majority peoples. Black people in the United States already knew how to suffer well. King was operating in a way that was aimed at keeping them, and him, alive. Non-oppressed and pseudo-oppressed peoples have no idea how the dynamics of resistance-from-the-bottom-up work. Speaking from this lack of understanding in a way that preserves one’s own sense of stability  and security fits squarely in the category of behavior that King referred to as the behavior of the White Moderate.  

A self-serving hyper-focus on the romanticized peaceful aspects of MLK’s vision essentially asks Black people, 60 years later, to continually be as lambs lying alongside the lions of white supremacy.  

It is only possible to twist the words of King because he is dead. After all, it was violence that silenced the nonviolent leader. Some people are less of a threat after their death. Some people are more quotable after their death. Some people’s words are more easily taken out of context and weaponized against the very people they stood by, with, and for after they are gone. Jesus and King, in that order, are our two most glaring examples.  

Jesus modeled for humanity what true nonviolence looks, feels, and sounds like. It’s not cute, warm, or fuzzy. And it is surely not avoidant, self-serving, or codependent. In fact, this aspect of the life of Jesus was evident at each encounter with the religious and political leaders in his time and place.  

When King studied the nonviolent methods of Mahatma Gandhi, he visited Gandhi’s family in India. This was 11 years after the assassination of Gandhi. Again, violence silenced the nonviolent leader—the nonviolent leader who was killed for calling for true justice and equity, not just a convenient silence. The nonviolent leader who was not cute, warm, fuzzy, avoidant, self-serving, or codependent in  his approach to nonviolence. Another leader that nonviolently spoke truth so hard that others felt compelled to kill him.  

During this visit with Gandhi’s family, King was informed that Gandhi based his nonviolent methods on the words of Jesus. This is the same Gandhi famously stated, “I like your Christ, but not your  Christianity. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” In fact, it was learned that Gandhi read the Sermon on the Mount every morning for 27 years. Imagine if we Christinas did that!  

Gandhi, though a Hindu, let the words of Jesus, the Spirit of Christ, order his steps. Inspired buy this encounter, so did King. It is no surprise that the degree to which these two men followed the Christ into the world in embodied and particular ways, they were, like Jesus, executed. It’s no coincidence that, like Jesus, these two men were seen as enemies of the state. It’s no coincidence that, like Jesus, these men were followed and harassed by the authorities, faced multiple death threats and attempts on their life, and were denounced by many of the religious and political leaders of their time. In fact, you could say that it was the spiritual collusion between the darkest aspects of the lowest level of consciousness in the collectives around these men that ultimately killed them once these dark aspects were dialed in on, and found release into, a scapegoat.  

If the Christ came to break up the status quo, then surely that which is Anti-Christ (the opposite of Christ) would seek to uphold the status quo of a world in humanity’s image.  

Using the words of King to silence Black voices is no different than  using the words of Paul to tell slaves to be good slaves. Christians have and will find ways to justify this, but followers of Christ cannot.  

“If they hated me, they will hate you.”  

It is no coincidence that Jesus, Gandhi, and King were all murdered.  It is no coincidence that these three men were killed at the intersection of religion and politics in collusion with the darkest aspects of the consciousness of the collective.

Using the words of Jesus against Jesus in the name of Jesus  sometimes looks like choosing one’s group over “the least of these.”  And the “least of these” are always those held in the least regard by a given collective. These collectives create systems and structures rooted in self-interest. This is the world in man’s image. This is anti-, the opposite of, Christ. We majority peoples are all contributing to and benefitting from such a system, such a structure, and are bound  to some degree by attachments and allegiances to people, places, and things within this unholy social matrix.  

We must not just worship and espouse, but truly follow, Jesus in our time and place—which means to follow him into Jerusalem, into the place where the darkest forces of the collective religiopolitical groupthink work through particular individuals in places of power to kill Christ, and that which is pro-Christ, in the name of God and Country. To carry your cross is to carry it to Jerusalem, the place  of suffering and death. If not death of the body, then at least of ego, self-interest, our relational idols, our attachment to whiteness, and our place in the social matrix.  

Do we truly want real peace, unity, and justice instead of a convenient silence?  

Then we must address the white supremacy in and around us.  

This year, instead of a meme, let’s honor Dr. King with inner work, family work, community work, and congregation work.  

Do we truly want real peace, unity, and justice instead of a  convenient silence? 

Then let us pick up our cross and follow Jesus.  

It may cost us our lives. It will definitely cost us our idols.  But it will lead to a Life that really is Life.  


About The Author


Tony Caldwell is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist in private practice and Professor of Social Work at the University of Mississippi. He is a member of the Memphis-Atlanta Jungian Seminar and the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts. As a public speaker, human rights activist, project facilitator, town hall moderator, and workshop leader; Tony has partnered with The Human Rights Campaign, the W.W. Kellogg Foundation, The William Winter Institute For Racial Reconciliation, The Mississippi Racial Equity Community of Practice, the Sara Isom Center For Women and Gender Studies, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Radical South Conference, The Levi Strauss Co., and the Toyota Corporation. Tony and his colleague, Dr. Jandel Crutchfield, have enjoyed success in their grassroots Together Projects promoting interracial and interfaith dialogue around issues of intersectionality, privilege, police violence, and systemic racism across the state of Mississippi. Tony has presented at Wild Goose Festival, the Haden Institute, and at various other conferences, congregations, and universities. He is currently leading The Underground Church, a reconciling faith community, in Oxford, Ms. As well as conducting research linking health outcomes in the Mississippi Delta, which are 50th in the nation, to transgenerational trauma related to slavery, segregation, poverty, and marginalization, and developing interventions to address these issues. Tony loves writing about the intersection of theology, depth psychology, and social justice.

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