Doing Martin Luther King Jr. Justice
Today is Martin Luther King Jr. day, so I’d like to share a reflection on this great man and the movement he birthed.
For the first time in history, we have an African American who is a viable candidate for the Presidency of the United States. Barack Obama wouldn’t be doing what he’s doing today if it wasn’t for what Martin Luther King Jr. did 40 years ago — at great cost to himself. This man did more to free America from its historical racism than any other single individual (though, of course, we still have a long way to go).
From a Kingdom perspective, the thing that stands out most about King is not that he rallied blacks to push back on unjust laws. This was of course a good and necessary thing to do. What makes King a truly great man from a distinctly Kingdom perspective, however, is the way he did this.
Before marching, King would always tell his audiences he didn’t want anyone marching who could not genuinely say she loved her white oppressors and was marching not only for her own freedom, but for the freedom of her oppressors (for King saw that oppressing another is as much a form of bondage as being oppressed). Not only this, but King would tell audiences he didn’t want anyone marching who couldn’t commit to refraining from all violence, even in self-defense. King explicitly based all this on the teaching and example of Jesus.
This makes what King did not simply a good and necessary social movement. It makes what King did a Kingdom movement. Indeed, I’d argue that the early civil rights movement, led by King, was one of the clearest expressions of the Kingdom in history.
It’s unfortunate, though hardly surprising, that the beautiful Kingdom dimension of King’s vision has largely been forgotten today. For the most part, King is remembered simply as a leader who fought for the rights of oppressed people, and the civil rights movement is remembered only as a political and social protest movement. In my opinion, this doesn’t do King justice. It misses the most important thing about the man. While the civil rights movement spun off in a number of directions — including some that contained violence — the man who birthed it had a vision of a movement that would look like a giant Jesus, fighting for the freedom of all though loving service to enemies rather than relying on anger and force.
To honor King rightly, we must never forget this.
Indeed, to honor King rightly, we must never cease to practice this.
Live in love, as Christ loved you and gave his life for you (Eph 5:1-2).