When you think of Martin Luther King, Jr., chances are good that the very first thing that comes to mind are his grants as a civil rights activist, and it’s little wonder why. Odds are also great that some of the terms from his famous I Have a Dream speech surface in your mind from time to time. Even though those words were first uttered over 50 years ago, the ideas he gave voice to are powerful and timeless.
He pictured a world so varied from the one he lived in and devoted his time and energy to working for improvement. It’s difficult to read these words and not be moved by their beauty and truth:
“I have a dream that one day this country will rise up and endure the right interpretation of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’
I have a vision that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will manage to sit down together at the table of brotherhood … I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be condemned by the color of their skin but by the content of their character… I have a dream that… one day… in Alabama little black girls and black boys will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”
Martin’s words inspire a greater brotherhood, kindness, and respect among all people. They prompt one to think about the idea that character is the only rubric that truly matters, and also hostility can give way to peace.
While he is known and respected for his work as a great civil rights leader, his role as a faithful religious leader is often overlooked. Aside from tenaciously working for social change, he was also passionate about his faith. Following in the footsteps of those who came before him, he worked and became a pastor to motivate others through sharing God’s word.
In an article on pbs.org (http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/2006/01/13/january-13-2006-martin-luther-king-jr-as-pastor/1788/), Professor Lewis Baldwin (Professor of Religious Studies and Director of African American Studies at Vanderbilt University) said this:
“Many labels were belonged him during his lifetime. He was called a civil rights activist; he was called a social activist, a social change agent, a world figure. But I think he thought of himself first and foremost as a preacher, as a Christian pastor.”
This is an affirmation that works, mirroring what it says in Proverbs 23:7: “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” His beliefs motivated his diligent work, despite opposition and persecution that eventually cost him his life when he was assassinated on April 4, 1968. But his work wasn’t wasted, because what he fought for still stirs us; his message is equally as appropriate today as it was when he was alive. He devoted his life to working for changes we desperately had to see in this nation, but he did so while addressing others with respect. This was yet another philosophy that he taught so eloquently when he said:
“In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our crave freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must always conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not support our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”
What a different world it would be if everyone made a keen effort to live like that!
Neglecting the fact that MLK Jr. was a churchman is to be blind to the fact that his beliefs were a driving force in all that he did. Along with becoming a widely-known public figure, he was something else long before that: a church leader, seeking to elevate, teach, and look after his flock.
The work of church pastors is still valued and important today. The work that churches do is important, and we love being able to witness this work in individual congregations as we provide transportation for church groups.