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by Christian M. Stempert

rev. Lawson (left) and Dr. king (right) (Photo Credit: beliefnet.com)

In October of last year, Boston University’s School of Theology hosted a panel interview with Rev. James Lawson, a United Methodist Minister and one of Martin Luther King’s closest advisers in the Civil Rights movement. Lawson was reportedly one of King’s inspirations in his advocacy of non-violence and was one of the foremost activist and organizers in the southeast United States.

Like MLK, despite his status as a minister, Lawson is more of a political activist than a Bible scholar. According to Lawson, he heard a “word from the Lord” in the 1960s that startled him: “My country is the number one enemy of peace and justice in the world.” This is a fairly standard liberal boilerplate, but it is kind of hard to believe in a time featuring governments like Chairman Mao’s China, Che Guevara’s Cuba and Pol Pot’s Cambodia. I’m no fan of America in the ‘60s under presidents like JFK and LBJ, but I give them a little more credit than that.

Since the 1960s, Lawson has added to the list of “powers and principalities:” big business, the military-industrial complex, and “plantation capitalism.”

“The Pentagon,” he said, “has 700,000 private contractors…and each of those private contractors is interested not in…the defense of the nation, but has been raised in an economic order that has said you must maximize your profit – even if it comes from the U.S. treasury.”

As a non-violence advocate concerned with the dignity and humanity of all, one would expect Lawson to have a problem with people making a profit off the blood of the innocent, or something like that. But this reference to the treasury and the fact that these companies are funded by taxpayer dollars reveals a blatantly political motivation.

It is the greed of the defense industry, Lawson says, that “does not allow you at Boston University to have free tuition and free room and board in the university – because that money is going to the accumulation of wealth of people and corporations that you don’t even know.”

Yes, let’s blame big business for the fact that a competitive private university charges so much for tuition. Life is so unfair.

He also explained what he meant by “plantation capitalism.” This refers to the idea that the colonists had, that “this land is our land” – and that gave them the right to take from the Indians. (He referenced the “Indians” a surprising number of times. For a man of his political persuasion, one would expect the more politically correct term “Native American.”) Lawson also credits that attitude with the justification for slavery. “The point is,” he said, “that we held slaves for 250 years, and we called those slaves from Africa ‘property.’ We called them… ‘the accumulation of wealth.’”

Neither settlers taking land from natives, nor slavery have anything to do with capitalism. Including that in the title “plantation capitalism” is a cheap political ploy trying to associate capitalism with injustice.

People were stealing from and enslaving each other long before there was any sort of theory of free markets and capitalism. This is a result of human sin and greed. The very existence of private property and free enterprise is not to blame for slavery. People being treated as property is not a necessary result of the existence of private property.

The problem isn’t the system. It’s the people.

People like this really should drop the title “Reverend.” That belongs to pastors, not activists. *cough* Al Sharpton *cough*