Issue date: 4/3/08
A former UA faculty member addressed poverty, war, religion,
controversial rhetoric and how they relate to the dream of Martin
Luther King, Jr. Wednesday night.
Dorsey Odell Blake was the first chairman of the UA African-American
studies program and currently serves as the pastor of the U.S.'s
first interracial, interfaith congregation, The Church for the
Fellowship of All Peoples in San Francisco. He delivered a message
entitled "40 Years after Dr. King: Wilderness or Promise Land?"
Blake said he heard King speak when he was a junior at Brown University.
"I sensed that this would be a memorable occasion," he said. "But I
had no idea that he would become an eternal presence that would
companion all of my earthly journey."
Blake said when King entered the room, he felt an "enveloping spirit
which I had never felt before."
Blake said King's greatest impact on him was to give him the courage
to be a conscientious objector to the war in Vietnam.
"Because he said 'no,' my 'no' was given wings," Blake said.
While most people wanted King to talk only about racism, Blake said
his speech at Brown was about the war. King became famous with
breaking with most religious leaders of the time in his objections.
It was through King that Blake first became aware of what he
considers improper fusing of religion and government.
"Religion loses its prophetic impact because it benefits from the
state," Blake said. "In many ways, the people who ought to be calling
the state into question don't, because they are benefiting from the state."
Blake said people often make bad decisions because they cannot
separate religious sentiment with polarizing political speech.
Blake gave an example in President George Bush, who he said amidst
low approvals ratings and questions about the war, began talking more
about gay marriage.
"You get all these people who are against gay marriage voting for him
when these are the very people who need to get him out of office
because he is destroying them economically," Blake said. "How does it
affect you if two lesbians want to get married? But this president
has great impact on you in terms of his policies."
Blake defended the recent comments of Jeremiah Wright, the
controversial former pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in
Chicago attended by Barack Obama, regarding Sept. 11.
"God does not want people to be killed in that kind of way, just like
God does not want people in Iraq and Afghanistan to be destroyed,"
Blake said. "We should think of it as how we can become human agents
to stop something like that from happening by becoming just in our
relationship with other people."
Blake said he does not think that Wright should change tone down how
he presents his ideas.
"He is speaking to a black congregation who understands exactly what
he is talking about," Blake said. "I think people should try to put
themselves in that context and understand his entire sermon rather
than taking things here and there."
Blake said he sees a parallel between Iraq and Vietnam, noting that
the Iraq war costs $12 billion every day that could be used elsewhere.
"That money needs to go towards creating an annual income for people
and also to guarantee that there is some kind of housing for people,"
Blake said. "The nation can do that - we have the capability of
making sure that everybody has at least a minimum level of decency -
housing, health and education."
Blake also said he thinks that UA students realistically can be a
part of a movement just as significant as King's. He gave the example
of 30 million people around the world who unanimously protested the
invasion of Iraq.
"One of the benefits that King had was this zeitgeist, this feeling
of the time," Blake said. "So much was already happening that King
was able to step into. That's the same kind of feeling we can create
today if enough people get involved."