January 18, 2010
Once a year our nation focuses on, well really just glances at, the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. We play recordings of his famous address in Washington, and school children draw pictures of what it means to have a dream. This is all for the good. It reminds us of the civil rights struggle of the past and hopefully brings us into the questions of continued racism in the present. For the more radical of us, remembering Martin includes his commitments against militarism and his opposition to the Vietnam war; and his deep questions about our nation's economy which leaves so many millions poor - questions that earned King the label of communists by some. But perhaps the greatest legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. is his profound religious belief that God's will on earth was one of justice for all people and peace among nations, and King's conviction that in doing's God will we can progress and that our world can become a better place.
Now this last statement will disturb two kinds of people. The first are those who wish to rid King of any annoying religious influence, and to sanitize the civil rights movement of God, Jesus or church. The second are those Christians who believe that social progress is not possible and not part of the mission of the church, but rather a distraction from saving souls. Both of these groups have a serious problem on Martin Luther King, Jr. day as they are at odds with understanding who King was and his message of hope today.
Celebrating MLK day without acknowledging religion is like admiring the exterior of the car without understanding the fuel and engine that makes it go. King was a Christian minister who had faith that God cared not only about the souls of the people but also cared about their bodies and the conditions in which they lived. King said: "The gospel at its best deals with the whole man. Not only his soul but his body, not only his spiritual well being but his material well-being. Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial."
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