To Live as a Christian and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Posted on February 1, 2020


Tomorrow we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. He was a man God made for the moment, the moment being the great challenge of destroying the remnants of segregation in this country. I remembered a lot of what my generation lived through by reading a wonderful column, “King’s passion for justice did not allow for hate,” written by Michael Gerson, a columnist for The Washington Post. The piece was published by The Tuscaloosa News last Tuesday.

Gerson caught the Christian principles of love and forgiveness that drove Dr. King to lead a movement that could have easily tripped over the wire of hate and turned violent. Southerners in the main fought to retain segregation. The Civil Rights movement championed trashing the legal remains of segregation, in the schools, in the cafeterias, in the buses, in the America we sometimes want to forget existed, but nonetheless which possessed the wisdom and the vision to overcome it.

Dr. King was a Christian first and foremost, devoted to love and forgiveness in his lifelong campaign to purge the country. King believed that moral goals must be pursued by moral means, including suffering for a cause. Gerson quotes an historian, Albert J. Raboteau, who noted that “suffering was redemptive, because suffering could transform both the sufferer and the oppressor…by accepting the violence of the oppressor, without retaliation and even without hatred, the demonstrators, he [King] insisted, could transform the oppressor’s heart.”

And quoting King, “I think I have discovered the highest good…It is love.” If you are hearing the voice of Jesus Christ in all this, you are recognizing the great truth that drove Dr. King. He was a Christian through and through, and here is where I part ways with Mr. Gerson who writes that King was “influenced by thinkers such as Jesus, Henry David Thoreau and Gandhi.” I love both Gandhi and Thoreau for great truths often expressed in short and pithy sayings, but they were men, not the son of God. Jesus was a more than one of the great thinkers of mankind. He was the Messiah prophesized by the Hebrews, the son of God who delivered man from sin through his redemptive work on the Cross

Gerson does put God into his essay by quoting King: “God has planted in the fiber of the universe certain eternal laws which forever confront every man. They are absolute and not relative. There is an eternal and absolute distinction between right and wrong.” Amen. And following King, none of us can remain neutral. Every one of us has the duty to resist evil and seek the good.

Let’s remember that the Reverend King lived his life according to the precepts and guidance of his master and God, Jesus Christ. That the Civil Rights movement didn’t dissolve into prolonged and bloody violence is not simply because of King, for he and other leaders had to persuade millions of Americans, black and white, men and women, Southerners and Yankees, to put their faith and trust in what God taught us through Jesus and some of his greatest early Apostles, like Paul.

That Gerson and others are moved and persuaded by the truth inherent in the life—words and actions—of King is wonderful. But Gerson doesn’t cross the line into an absolute embrace of Jesus and what he taught us. He was a “thinker” indeed, like a Thoreau or a Ghandi, but he was the living expression of God’s intervention in our lives, an eruption really, that transformed how we viewed our origins, our lives, our future.

King made a speech on Aug. 28, 1963 in Washington, D.C. that should be read in its entirety every year, remembered as we remember Abraham Lincoln’s words, “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.”

“I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”2

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”

Published as “A man God made for the moment,” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday Jan 19, 2020.