Beware of Saints
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord' will enter the reign of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Heavenly Parent." Matthew 7:21
It is tempting to depict Martin Luther King, Jr., as a saint, or even as a Christ figure. The parallels, after all, are striking: a fiery young leader preaches a liberating vision for human community. He stirs up controversy, confronts the powerful, unsettles the status quo. He stands with those on the social margins, affirming their dignity. His eloquent words envision a future that seems impossible, yet stirs the deepest longings of our hearts. But he is slain, brutally, unjustly, . . .
As with many modern-day prophets - Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, countless lesser-known sisters and brothers -King models for us away of discipleship. Yet our rush toward canonization is a disservice, both to Brother Martin and to ourselves.
He was a faithful, struggling child of God, bearing, like all of us, his wounds and flaws.
More importantly, sainthood is often our mechanism for domesticating prophets and letting ourselves off the hook. We elevate and idealize our heroes, effectively diminishing the challenge of their witness. As Dorothy Day herself put it: "Don't call me a saint. I don't want to be dismissed that easily."
There is, however, another parallel, perhaps the most instructive: The authors in this issue challenge the small and sanitized version of King,shorn of the sharp prophetic edges, used to lull us into complacency. Just as disturbing is how the institutional church frequently promotes an abstract Christ. A stained-glass Savior, safely insulated behind doctrine and ritual, floats divinely above the fray of history, far from the cries of human struggle. Throughout the centuries, such an elevated Jesus has been conveniently used to prop up both the ecclesial and social status quo.
For almost forty years, The Other Side has sought to "reclaim" the radical vision of Jesus. A constant theme in these pages has been that it is not sufficient to worship Christ while effectively ignoring his life and teachings. For much of our history, our readers turned first to John Alexander's pithy columns about "taking Jesus seriously," in which John made it abundantly clear that the Gospels - like the rest of Scripture - were talking about money, power, community, politics. Our many authors have articulated an integral and incarnational vision of the reign of God, inwhich the spiritual infuses the stuff of our lives.
Following Jesus means a willingness to upset the social and theological status quo, to take risks. It means challenging ourselves, the church, and society whenever we settle for a vapid, comfortable version of the gospel that serves to oppress rather than liberate.
In this issue, we sought to save Martin Luther King, Jr., from those who would sanctify him into irrelevance. Similarly, we seek to follow an authentic Jesus by taking seriously the ramifications of his life and teaching for both our souls and the social order of our communities.
Only then can we hear their words to us as a call on our lives, an invitation to the strange and unpredictable path of discipleship. Though uncertain, it is nonetheless a path struck through with joy. --Will O'Brien, Associate Editor