By K. Jason Coker
“I have a dream…” “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” “Mine eyes have seen the glory…”
There are so many quotes and statements from Dr. King that are in the cultural ethos of the United States. His big ideas like “Beloved Community” are well known throughout grassroot movements and advocates all over the nonprofit world and beyond.
So much of what I do at Together for Hope is shaped and influenced by Dr. King’s writings and speeches, but one in particular, one that doesn’t get as much attention as others, directly influences the way I understand the world in general, and my core religious beliefs in particular. His concept of World House hits me in my deepest convictions about humanity. Dr. King devoted a whole chapter to this idea in his last book Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (1967).
He best summarizes the idea when he says, “We have inherited a large house, a great ‘world house’ in which we have to live together—black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Hindu—a family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interest, who, because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live with each other in peace” (p. 177).
By reconceptualizing the entire world as a house, Dr. King calls the whole world to live at peace—as if we were living in the same house. He was assassinated before he saw a person walk on the moon, but he could see the forces of globalization shrinking the world in which we live down into a house. We live in that house today. We are so connected in our human mutuality that we are inescapable from each other no matter if we live on the same street or on different continents.
As Dr. King said elsewhere, “What affects one directly, affects indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.” We are all deeply connected—inextricably connected.
Because of this interconnectedness, this “world house,” when we do not think communally and/or collectively, we do not simply hurt others, we hurt ourselves. This is where Dr. King connects racism to other destructive forces of division globally—colonialism and extractive capitalism.
When one group of people take another group of people’s land or resources, they not only destroy the people they exploit, they do damage to their own humanity. They have betrayed their own humanity. This is how racism destroys the racist, exploitation destroys the exploiter, etc. When trillion-dollar multinational companies mine for minerals in the Congo and destroy the earth and exploit labor to make sure cell phones are available, we have started to set fire to our house—the world house.
This idea directly impacts the work I do with Together for Hope. People who experience persistent rural poverty in the United States are historically some of the hardest workers in the country. They were laboring in the fields before mechanization of farming put them out of a job. They were working in factories before the factories moved to another country where the labor was cheaper. They were working in the mines before the mines dried up. They are what is left when an entire industry abandons labor.
This is the cause and the nature of persistent rural poverty in America, but we continue to believe that narrative that the poor are poor because they are lazy and don’t want to work. That is simply not true. The people with whom we work in rural America want to work and want to provide for their families, but there are not enough jobs for them in rural space. Their poverty is our poverty. Where poverty affects one directly, poverty affects all of us indirectly—we still live in a World House.
As Christians who understand that we live in the same house as our sisters and brothers from other faiths and no faith, we have to see that our future wellbeing is absolutely rooted in our capacity to live in peace with each other, to do what makes for harmony, to work toward a future where “justice rolls down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
This morality for the other will directly affect the way we vote, the policies that we try to pass, and the way we engage with the political in general. It forces us to get involved. Those who say they don’t like to get involved with politics are simply people who are completely supported by the politics of the status quo. To get involved would mean that one understands that politics directly affects people’s lives—if not their own, definitely someone else’s. Because of that, let’s start putting our house in order.
Let’s make sure everyone has equal access through equitable policy. Let’s make sure that everyone has a place at the table to eat. Let’s make sure that the air that we breathe and the space that we inhabit are healthy for everyone in our world house. It will take some political imagination, some economic imagination, but I think we can do it. What choice do we have? We all live in the same world house.
Rev. Dr. Jason Coker is President of Together for Hope. Learn more at http://hope.cbf.net.