Martin Luther King

In recent days, I have come across a number of Facebook posts regarding Martin Luther King. I also discovered a “must see” film about some important aspects of his work has just been released. The Wikipedia article about the man starts off: “Martin Luther King, Jr., (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) was an American pastor, activist, humanitarian, and leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. He is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights using nonviolent civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs“. And of course there was that never to be forgotten and immensely powerful and inspirational “I have a dream” speech. While King came to prominence in my formative teenager years when his work to address blatant racism, prejudice and injustice especially endeared him to me, I confess to my shame there is a lot about the great man and his work that I don’t know.

Checking out those Facebook posts to do with King’s profound words of wisdom, I still feel my heart stirred as he must have done for those listening to him some fifty years ago. Many of his words have been recorded;  these are some of my favorites:

  1. Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’
  2. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
  3. The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.
  4. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
  5. A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.
  6. The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.
  7. Whatever your life’s work is, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better.
  8. The quality, not the longevity, of one’s life is what is important.
  9. Never succumb to the temptation of bitterness.
  10. Science investigates religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power religion gives man wisdom which is control.

The following pledge King concocted for members of the civil rights movement he helped found, that integrated Christian spirituality, is especially poignant, and no doubt made it an effective force. I am grateful to one of my Facebook friends for pointing this out in his “the secularisation of Martin Luther King” post,

I hereby pledge myself – my person and body – to the Nonviolent Movement. Therefore I will keep the following Ten Commandments:

  1. Meditate on the life and teachings of Jesus
  2. Remember the nonviolent movement seeks justice and reconciliation – not victory.
  3. Walk and talk in the manner of love; for God is love.
  4. Pray daily to be used by God that all men and women might be free.
  5. Sacrifice personal wishes that all might be free.
  6. Observe with friend and foes the ordinary rules of courtesy.
  7. Perform regular service for others and the world.
  8. Refrain from violence of fist, tongue and heart.
  9. Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.
  10. Follow the directions of the movement leaders on demonstrations.

Fifty years on and much water having gone under the bridge for me personally and society generally, with the present generation seeing amazing changes in race relations since King’s day, and when I followed Martin Luther King as a young teenager, my admiration for the man remains unabated. His achievement in terms of bringing about justice for oppressed peoples, in particular black Americans, was monumental (and he did all this before his assassination aged only 39). There were undoubtedly flaws in his character and, which is of interest to me, in his theology that some of my conservative friends saw as decidedly liberal. But given I need to read a lot more on the subject, something I am not inclined to do, I will reserve judgement as I usually try to do until such time I know all the facts.

HOWEVER, what intrigues me, and it is because of the type of interests I like to think we both share, although I am nowhere nearly as effective as King, is that firstly we are Christians that preach the gospel and secondly community activists that take a particular interest in social justice matters, based on our respective theological understandings, but he did so long before it became fashionable for conservative types such as me to follow suit. For the legacy he left, he will be always remembered. The world owes him a great debt.

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