The healing power of King in the time of Bush

By Mark Follman

Published January 17, 2005 10:25PM (EST)

While the battle over Martin Luther King's legacy continues with respect to same-sex marriage, the editorial board of the Dallas Morning News considers the civil rights icon in terms of America's bitter partisan divide under George W. Bush. King's legacy, proposes the paper, lies in the potential political healing power of the black church.

"As we celebrate the anniversary of Dr. King's birth, the black church is again particularly pivotal. Why? The black church stands as one of the few institutions that can speak both to left and right.

"Some may mistakenly still associate the black church with leaders such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson and others of his generation. But the strongest emerging force in the African-American church is one quite different from these traditional leaders. This new breadth of talent is as comfortable talking about personal holiness as social justice; it speaks to both Promise Keepers and the American Civil Liberties Union.

"You find this force spread across denominations, academia and politics. There's the Rev. Susan Johnson Cook, pastor of a Bronx church and head of a national conference of black ministers. There's Dr. Sheron Patterson, minister of the St. Paul United Methodist Church in Dallas. There are Pentecostals such as the Most Rev. Gilbert Earl Patterson of Memphis, the Rev. Charles Blake of Los Angeles and the Rev. Barbara Amos of Norfolk."

A rising star of the Democratic Party fits the bill, too.

"And of course the fresh thinking of Democratic Sen. Barack Obama is alluring because he too has the potential to speak effectively across the political spectrum and could become one of the go-between leaders the nation desperately needs."

On the other hand, there's some provocative debate ongoing over the cultural fault lines of black America. From the ubiquity of gangsta rap to the NBA's boys in the 'hood, a new collection of essays from firebrand critic Stanley Crouch, "The Artificial White Man," points some fingers and drops some knowledge. See Emily Eakin's review for more.

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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