I believe King would be pleased by the fact that faith continues to have a strong impact on the mainstream U.S. media. I am sure that he would view the multiple discussions about faith in most political debates as positive signs of a potential spiritual awakening in the entire nation. He would be quick to state that U.S. history is filled with stories about how the faith community steered the country from social and/or cultural destruction. After all, the Civil War would never have been fought to abolish slavery if faith had been forced from the public square.
Last year I wrote a piece entitled: “King: Conservative or Liberal?” I concluded that King’s core beliefs matched those of most conservatives with the exception of his sentiments about war. Just three months before I wrote my op-ed (October 2006), a group of black conservatives ran a radio and television commercial in DC, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Ohio and Pennsylvania which stated that Dr. King was a Republican. Even though their assertion was based in fact, the ads were seen as divisive, pieces of propaganda. To my surprise many black civil rights leaders got upset at the assertion that King had Republican roots. They felt that even if King were a Republican at one point in his life, this would imply his approval of the current agenda of the party.
Let’s return to the question of who would receive Dr. King’s vote. If King voted Republican in the primary he would have been equally likely to vote for Huckabee, Romney, or Thompson because of their pro-life stands and their views of religious liberty. On the Democratic side, he would probably see no substantive differences in the policy recommendations of any of the top Democratic candidates. It would be difficult, however, to determine whose character and experience would qualify them to be the most powerful leader in the world.
Yet the ultimate question might be whether King would play the race card by voting for the leading black candidate, Obama, simply because he is African American. King would find it fitting that South Carolina, a southern state with 50% black voters, would be given a chance to test America’s changing social order. At the end of the day, he would probably not publicize his personal vote. He would, however, publicly encourage South Carolina voters to abandon identity politics of race, class, and gender - setting a new standard. This might imply a vote for Hillary Clinton.
Let me end this discussion of how King would vote by making an interesting observation. Taylor Branch, the famed author of the King trilogy, has done the nation a great service by writing about the man, his ministry, and his message. His latest book At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68 is nothing short of brilliant.
Branch insists that the net result of Dr. King’s work was not only greater social equality for blacks, but greater social freedoms for all Americans. In a rare discussion of this work carried on Book TV on C-Span2, Branch explained that white women were perhaps the greatest recipients of the changes made in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
Regardless of the outcome in the Democratic or Republican primaries, the diversity of race, gender, class, and faith reflects a tremendous social maturity that is developing in our nation. And this would get King’s vote.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.