Across the country today, speakers will honor the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. They will likely quote the resounding “I Have a Dream” speech and the stirring “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”
But what made it possible for King to accomplish so much? Let’s go deeper into the origins of his belief that men and women of all races are born to the same rights and freedoms.
King explained that “just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town.”
King’s faith supported everything he did, and his vision for America arose directly from his Christian ideals. “If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong,” he declared. “If we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong.”
Christianity teaches that people must love one another, and even before he began his crusade for civil rights, King frequently preached that people must love their enemies and forgive those who attempt to harm them. The marches, rallies, and boycotts he organized all featured non-violence, because they were born in Christian love and hope.
King called on Americans “to look deep down within every man and see within him something of Godliness.” His faith in God gave him faith in his fellow Americans. They proved worthy. Within a generation, “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners” were finally treated as equals under the law.
While King talked openly about his faith, these days there’s pressure to scrub religion from the public square. Activists seem to misunderstand the First Amendment. They act as if it provides freedom (for them) from religion, instead of freedom (for everyone) of religion. Just last week, for example, a group in Oklahoma filed a lawsuit alleging that most of the Ten Commandments actually violate state and federal laws.
Unfortunately, this extends to King’s legacy as well. There are 16 quotations at his D.C. memorial. Several originate in sermons and one quotes a Bible verse, yet there’s no mention of God or faith.
So on his holiday, let his words be a fitting reminder of the intersection between faith and political action. “All men, created alike in the image of God, are inseparably bound together,” King wrote in 1956. “This is at the very heart of the Christian gospel.” It is the heart of the American creed as well.
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