Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Reaching Across the Table: King and Falwell Pass

Yesterday the news media was abuzz with reports of fundamentalist Jerry Falwell's death. Yet while the newshounds swarmed to cover the controversial life of Falwell, rehearsing all his most scandalous and hate-filled comments, a modern day saint passed.

This morning news of Yolanda King's death is slowing beginning to percolate under the frenzy that Falwell's death initiated. King passed yesterday evening at the age of 51.

I find it cosmically ironic that Falwell and King passed on the same day; two people whose lives could not be more diametrically opposed. While Falwell spent his life railing against all those deemed as threats to the gospel including the "pagans, abortionists, feminists, the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, [and the] People For the American Way," King dedicated her life to the movement for social justice. Just an infant when her home was firebombed and only 12 when her father was assassinated, King's life was forged in the crucible of the struggle for justice.

As I have been reading the obituaries for King, I am surprised at the sheer neglect of King's commitment to GLBT rights. She, like her mother, Coretta, vociferously supported the GLBT movement. In fact, in 2000 I had the privilege of being arrested with her at the United Methodist General Conference in Cleveland. That day, King rose to address the crowd of advocates gathered there. Facing Fred Phelps and his hate-filled signs, King said, "I am here to encourage tolerance and compassion." She told crowds that while she was there to foster change in the UMC, her hope was directed much wider, toward all denominations that they might become places of true welcome and authentic gospel love.

In 2006 speaking at the Out and Equal Workplace Summit, King said,

"In the 1950s and 60s, African-American men and women made some choices--often dangerous ones--and they were joined by men and women of goodwill, gay and straight, from all races and backgrounds, and together, tremendous progress was made toward the betterment of our nation.

The civil rights movement served as the inspiration and paved the way for all the movements for human rights which followed it--the women's movement, the peace movement, and, of course, the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans.

We have come a long way. And while the scars and stains of racism remain, the fact is, racial discrimination is no longer legal. However, discrimination under the rule of law still exists. If you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, you do not have the same rights as other Americans. You cannot marry. And while there has been some progress, thanks to the work this organization [Out & Equal Workplace Advocates] in the workplace, you still face discrimination in the workplace, and in our armed forces. For a nation that prides itself on liberty, justice and equality for all, this it totally unacceptable."

King's life stands as a witness to the world of Christian love in spite of the hateful rhetoric we see so often publicized in the media. Just this year at the MLK commemoration, King said this, "We must keep reaching across the table and, in the tradition of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, feed each other."

I'd like to imagine King now, sitting with her father and mother, reaching across that heavenly table and offering Falwell a taste of grace.

3 comments:

Elizabeth said...

I love the idea of Heaven as being "at table" with *everyone* (cf. Madeleine L'Engle's The Genesis Trilogy, the second volume in particular), and yours is the second post in that vein which I've seen today, which does my heart good.

I also had no idea about Yolanda King, so I appreciate that information more generally as well.

-Elizabeth Sweeny

Jeremy said...

Cosmically ironic, indeed.

I find it humbling that both individuals are sharing a table together, both equally passionate in their views of God and justice, and both are, without question, discovering just how fallen-short their ideas about God truly were.

Some more than others.

Anonymous said...

Pardon me, but I can't think of Falwell being in heaven, after all the false things he said about gays (not to mention against Martin Luther King, against women's rights, supporting aparteid in S Africa, etc).