On Monday, the nation celebrates the birth of one of its icons, a man who has become a symbol of America’s ideals.
Though Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed 50 years ago by an assassin’s bullet, some of Cobb’s faith leaders said his philosophy and organizational skills still have lessons to teach.
Representatives of Christianity, Judaism and B’hai gathered in House of Hope Church International in Marietta on Saturday to discuss the influence of King’s life and work on today’s religious faiths. Local political leaders were in attendance, including State Sen. Michael Rhett, D-Marietta, Cobb County Police Chief Michael Register, Cobb Commission Chairman Mike Boyce and Marietta Councilwoman Michelle Cooper Kelly.
The meeting came the day after President Donald Trump drew heavy criticism after the Washington Post reported he used vulgar language to ask lawmakers why the U.S. accepts immigrants from economically disadvantaged countries.
Though most of the speakers were apolitical, some invoked the name of Trump, most notably keynote speaker Anthony Makar, senior minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta.
Makar’s thesis was that racism in America is the result of the work of elites who sought to divide blacks and poor whites by telling poor white workers they are superior to blacks by virtue of their birth. The goal, he said, is to cause the two groups to fight among themselves rather than against the wealthy who exploit their labor.
Makar also gave a portion of blame to the Democratic Party. He said white supremacy is a real problem, but one liberal elites have been focused upon to the exclusion of class issues that also affect poor whites.
“The result is rage,” Makar said. “The result is poor whites feeling completely unseen, misunderstood by people who act like they know everything, but they do not. They are completely oblivious to the classism that has them in their grip, and guess who enters then? I like to call him ‘He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.’”
Makar, who got laughs and applause with the Harry Potter reference, said he was referring to President Trump.
“He exploits that rage,” Makar said. “He enlists it to serve his purpose, and you know what his purpose is? It ain’t about helping the poor. It’s not about that. It’s about the rich getting richer.”
Makar quoted a King speech in which he recalled a time he was thrown in jail for protesting. King said he struck up conversations with his white jailers when the topic of pay came up. When King heard how much they were making, he told them they ought to be out in the streets protesting, too.
King said the jailers were being exploited like the black protesters, but they had been convinced to side with their oppressors because they were taught that they were superior.
Makar said today’s leaders would do well to follow King’s example and work against classicism as well as racism.
Pastor Richard Bush of Mt. Zion First Baptist Church in Smyrna offered a metaphysical defense of President Trump, referring to him by his presidential number.
“Everyone has made a ruckus about number 45,” Bush said. “Somewhere in that good book ... it says ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,’ so that means the existence of time was not in existence until God said ‘Let there be.’ So because the existence of time was not into an existence, number 45 is placed where he should and where he is supposed to be. ... What number 45 is doing, he’s uniting us back to the way we should be.”
Rabbi Lauren Cohn of Temple Emanu-El in Atlanta said Jews were often among the white people to join the Civil Rights movement because they knew what it was like to be persecuted.
Cohn also said Jewish theology teaches the equality of all humans, referring to Genesis 1:27, in which God creates Adam in His own image.
“The rabbis say this means that we all came from the same mold,” she said. “In the Talmud, we are taught … all people are descended from one being, Adam, so that none can say ‘My ancestor is worthier than yours.’ We all descended from the same people. We are all equal.”
Cohn also told a story of an ancient rabbi called Hillel the Elder, who was challenged to explain the entire Torah to a gentile while standing on one foot.
“What is hateful to yourself, do not do to a fellow man,” Hillel said. “That is the whole Torah, the rest is just commentary. Go and study it.”
Marietta Councilman Reggie Copeland, who is also bishop of House of Hope, said King’s message to the world is the same as that of Christianity: love.
“Love is the glue, it’s the cement that holds all of us together. Dr. King was not only a God-fearing man, but he was a loving man, in spite of what had been done to him, he still found a way to love people that didn’t look like him and even hated him. … Love is not just a noun, it’s a verb… which means love is an action word.”