In a few days, August 28, 2013 will mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Most of those commemorating the event will remind us of the “I have a dream” speech or all the political posturing of the civil rights movement to overcome injustice inflicted upon so many. But few will address the spiritual nature and Godly background of Martin Luther King Jr.
Much of the spiritual nature of Dr. King’s influence can be found in sermons he preached. One in particular was preached at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama on November 4, 1956. The title is “Paul’s Letter to American Christians.” In it Dr. King imagines what the Apostle Paul would have to say if he were to write an epistle to America.
He begins by affirming them concerning their progress in science and technology. He also asks some probing questions whether our spiritual progress has kept up with that which is scientific. His indictment is that we have let our material means by which we live outdistance our spiritual ends. We have made the world a neighborhood but have failed to make it a brotherhood.
The Apostle Paul would remind the Christians they live in an unchristian world. Many are afraid to be different and for them morality is merely group consensus. They discover morality according to a Gallup poll. As was spoken to the Romans, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” We live in time and eternity, both heaven and earth and so our allegiance is not only to government, state or nation but ultimately to God. I am also afraid many among us are making a living and not a life.
In regards to the Church in America, the true Church is the Body of Christ and it knows not division or disunity. Our churches war against each other with claims of absolute truth destroying the unity in the Body of Christ. God is bigger than all denominations and we must come to see that in order to be true witnesses of Jesus Christ.
Segregation has crept into our churches and Sunday morning is the greatest hour of segregation America knows. Teaching that African Americans are inferior is pure blasphemy for “in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, bond or free, male or female. But in Christ, all are one.” And from Mars hill, “God that made the world and all things…has made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on all the face of the earth.” The segregater diminishes the segregated to a status of “a thing” rather than elevating him to the status of a person. America is still in need of a Amos crying, “Let judgment roll down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.”
When we struggle against evil, let us do it with Christian methods and Christian weapons. We must do it with dignity and discipline. Let us not permit anyone to drag us to the depths of hatred. Let your oppressor know you will not humiliate, defeat or pay him back in revenge but what you are doing will bring justice for him as well as yourself because segregation debilitates the segregater and the segregated. Let us all stand for justice but by doing so it may include our willingness to suffer and sacrifice. Life in Jerusalem, Philippi, Thessalonica, Ephesus and Athens convinces us that, “neither death or life, or angels, or principalities, or things present, or things to come…shall separate us from the love of God, which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.” The purpose for life is not to be happy, not to achieve pleasure and avoid pain, but to do the will of God, come what may.
The greatest virtue of life is love. Here we find the true meaning of the Christian faith. This is the meaning of the cross. At the cross we see the love of God breaking forth into time.
Out of these spiritual dynamics Dr. King did what he believed to be right. It was a spiritual conviction that led him to march and demonstrate peacefully even as he saw the tragedies of children murdered in a church and fellow demonstrators abused in the streets.
John Piper’s book, Bloodlines, presents the same spiritual nature of racism. The ingredients of racism include pride, guilt, hopelessness, feelings of inferiority and self-doubt, greed, hate, fear and apathy. These cannot be cured by any governmental action or legislation but must be met with the good news of the gospel. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not another ideology, philosophy or methodology but is the power of God and enters as dynamite to reconcile people to God and make them supernaturally new.
Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas writes in his memoir, My Grandfather’s Son, how he grew up during segregation and its transformation to desegregation. Wherever he went, racism raised its ugly head and in the end he too realized the spiritual nature of the conflict.
As we recognize the milestone of the march on Washington let us recognize it for what it is. Some changes have come about but more has to be done. Many laws have been and will be passed in regard to civil rights, segregation and racism but the center of the matter is in the heart of each American. Pride, hate and fear are spiritual issues and must be left at the foot of the cross. Only then will the tradition of Dr. King be honored properly.