Juan Thomas, attorney and former president of the National Bar Association, speaks at the 10th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Luncheon on Monday at Grace Outreach Center. Thomas said he encourages people to read King’s work written after he gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. Photo by Amy Byres.

The guest speaker at the 10th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Luncheon in Rio Rancho compared Pontius Pilate from the gospel to President Donald Trump.

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference of New Mexico hosted this luncheon at the Grace Outreach Event Center on Monday.

The guest speaker, Juan Thomas, is a Baptist preacher, politician, attorney and former president of the National Bar Association. He began his speech by reading from the Bible in John, chapter 18, verse 28.

In this part of the Bible, John the apostle wrote about Jesus being questioned by Roman governor Pilate.

Thomas said he reads from the Bible whenever he struggles to understand difficult times in his life.

“What I discovered about this text, is what I want you to know (about) what is going on in this country, and what is about to happen tomorrow (Trump’s impeachment trial); I want you to know the relationship between truth and power,” Thomas said.

He said this text taught him three things about truth and power.

“The first thing this text says is the people in power will dismiss the truth. Pontius Pilate is in front of Jesus and just casually says to him, ‘I don’t believe the intelligence report. I don’t believe what the general has been telling me,'” he said.

He said the second enlightenment was that people in power will also deny the truth.

“Jesus told (Pilate) ‘I am the truth.’ Pontius Pilate said, ‘What is the truth?’ Jesus told him what the truth was. He is questioning what he already had been told. He denied what he knew; he denied that Obama was born in America; he denied the truth about global reform; he denied about the war in Iraq; he denied about JFK’s assassination; he denied about groping women. They will deny the truth,” he said.

He said the third takeaway from this text was that people in power will distract from the truth.

“They will distract you from the truth. What does Pilate do after he goes and talks to Jesus? He goes to the crowd; he goes to a pep rally,” he said.

Thomas said Pilate used Barabbas, a prisoner of the Roman government, as a distraction from the truth.

“Don’t worry about the food regulations disbanded; don’t worry about how I have defunded HUD (Housing and Urban Development) in the civil rights department in Washington, I’ll give you Barabbas. And we will make Rome great again” he said.

Thomas said he chose this example from the Bible to place Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life into context.

“Dr. King’s life is in context to Jesus’ life. Jesus was a truth-fighter and a truth-seeker. See, what we do in this country is we commercialize and water-down King,” he said.

Thomas said too many people only focus on the celebration of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. At the time of King’s death, he was the most hated man alive, Thomas said.

“Why is that? It was because, on April 4, 1967, King stood in the bullpen of Riverside Baptist Church and came out against the Vietnam War. He challenged Johnson; he challenged the status quo,” Thomas said.

He reiterated President Lyndon Johnson’s response to King’s challenge.

“And the president said, ‘I gave the N-words civil rights; I gave this N-word voting rights; and this N-word is now doing this to me,'” Thomas said. “Those in power will treat you like you’re supposed to be a good N-word because they give you something.”

“So let me just say something to the politicians in the room: Don’t think that coming to a King celebration means you can now check off what you have done for black folk. We are not that cheap,” Thomas said. “Don’t think because you meet a part of our agenda that we will be satisfied and fall in line and be good N-words. Those days are over.”

Thomas said his community has the power to vote in new leadership.

“And the struggle in our community is that too many of us want to be liked by them. We want to be the chosen N-word,” he said.

Thomas said he believes in creating relationships with anyone who supports his community’s interests, but it is a collaboration.

“You will not pimp my people. You will not just give me a job and think I will not criticize and critique your policy agenda that impacts the majority of my people. I do not want a contract and then you think I am just going to fall in line and do what you want me to do,” he said.

Thomas said like Jesus, King was not concerned with governmental powers: “He had a bigger agenda, a larger purpose, and I just come by to say this, beloved, don’t let this trial tomorrow distract you from what is really important.”

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Assistant Editor at Rio Rancho Observer