Washington On Monday, the country honors the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who would have been 78 years old. The civil rights leader, who was assassinated in 1968 at the age of 39, launched many of his efforts from the pulpit. To mark his birthday, religious leaders were asked: Is King's legacy of social activism still alive in the faith community today?
¢ The Rev. Jesse Jackson, founder of the Rainbow/Push Coalition: "The activist black churches are still the conscience of our nation. ... I was with Dr. King on his last birthday. We must remember that a lot of churches didn't support King then. He was expelled from the National Baptist Convention. Our mission today is to green-line a red-lined America. It is good to talk about raising the minimum wage in Congress, but for those who don't have jobs, the issue doesn't touch them. We need to continue to work on an urban agenda."
¢ Rabbi Douglas Heifetz, of the Oseh Shalom Congregation in Laurel, Md.: "Yes! King's legacy is alive today. It needs to be spread far and near. For example, the Jewish community has been extremely active in working with a coalition of other groups to call for an end to the genocide in Darfur because this is massive human rights abuse on a wide scale. We are called to follow King's legacy because the Hebrew Bible calls for ongoing social transformation to affect the lives of people, paying special attention to the lives of those who are most in need."
¢ Cain Hope Felder, professor at the Howard University School of Divinity and founder of the Biblical Institute for Social Change: "I am sick and tired of hearing Dr. King's 'I Have a Dream' speech when the daily reality is that for an increasing number of Americans, and the African-American poor in particular, living is a nightmare. Dr. King's legacy is barely alive today. There needs to be a vigorous effort for religious leaders to be far more proactive than they have been in the past two decades of co-optation."