A Text for the MLK Holiday
This is when preachers and politicians stumble over themselves to talk about Martin Luther King,Jr. But I wonder if the appropriate text might be Jesus’ words, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are not with me.” (Mt 15:8) Or perhaps, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and don’t do what I say?” (Lk 6:46)
At the risk of sounding negative, I need to say, Don’t talk about Martin Luther King, Jr., unless …
… You’re willing to use non-violence to accomplish your goals.
Dr. King never gave up on the way of non-violence he discovered in the gospels and in E. Stanley Jones’ book about Gandhi. (I recommend my brother’s book, 30 Days with E. Stanley Jones). As a result, the MLK-inspired March on Washington (August 28, 1963) was a larger and totally non-violent contrast to the Trump-inspired attack on the Capitol (January 6, 2021) and a few of the BLM protests last summer. Dr. King said:
“Violence is not the way. Hate is not the way. Bitterness is not the way. We must stand up with love in our hearts, with a lack of bitterness and yet a determination to protest courageously for justice and freedom in this land … Nonviolence is absolute commitment to the way of love. Love is not emotional bash; it is not empty sentimentalism. It is the active outpouring of one’s whole being into the being of another.”
… Unless you support voting rights for all.
The right to vote is the foundation of our democracy and was at the heart of the movement Dr. King led. It was for voting rights that John Lewis nearly lost his life at the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday. Dr. King’s words during the struggle are sadly appropriate today.
“All types of conniving methods are still being used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters. The denial of this sacred right is a tragic betrayal of the highest mandates of our democratic tradition.” (1957)
… Unless you’re rooted in faith.
There’s no way to understand who King was or what he did without understanding his deep, biblical faith, nurtured in the Black church and given practical wisdom and theological strength through disciplined scholarship. That faith kept him and those who followed him going when the going got tough. Dr. King said:
“Those of us who call the name of Jesus Christ find something of an event in our Christian faith that tells us this. There is something in our faith that says to us, ‘Never despair; never give up; never feel that the cause of righteousness and justice is doomed.’”
… Unless you’re willing to hold onto hope in dispair.
The MLK Monument in Washington is a visual expression of Dr. King’s words, “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope” He often quoted Theodore Parker, the 19th Century preacher, reformer and abolitionist, “There is a moral arc in the universe that bends toward justice.”
In a deeply cynical era, we need to hear Dr. King say:
“There is something in our Christian faith, at the center of it, which says to us that Good Friday may occupy the throne for a day, but ultimately it must give way to the triumphant beat of the drums of Easter … There is something in this universe which justifies William Cullen Bryant in saying: ‘Truth crushed to earth will rise again.’ … I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger that evil triumphant.”
… Unless you trust the power of love.
We cannot talk about the life, work and witness of Martin Luther King, Jr., without listening to his words about the power of love.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
“We must meet hate with love. We must meet physical force with soul force. There is still a voice crying out through the vista of time, saying: ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.’ …
“I’m not talking about a sentimental, shallow kind of love … I’m talking about the love of God in the hearts of men. I’m talking about a type of love which will cause you to love the person who does the evil deed while hating the deed that the person does. We’ve got to love.“
Perhaps then, and only then, our talking about Dr. King might become living like him.
Grace and peace,