Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I wanted to share with you why this day is important to me and why I believe it should be important to you. I observe this day, to remember not only Martin Luther King, Jr., but all those who participated in the civil rights movement. I observe this day, to celebrate what was achieved for racial and economic justice and rededicate myself to the work still to be done.* But mostly, I observe this day to remember what the church can accomplish when we put the teachings of Jesus Christ into action.
The civil rights movement was Christian to the very core of it’s being. Meetings were often held in churches. The Christian faith was invoked by the hymns that were sung, scriptures the were read, and the sermons that were preached. Faith provided both the inspiration to get started when the odds looked overwhelming and much of the courage to continue on when the going got difficult. The non-violent practices it adopted to achieve it’s goals were those of Jesus.
This is not to say that Christianity was the only source of inspiration. Ideas and inspiration were taken from non-Christian sources as long as they were compatible with the movement’s Christian goals and Christ-like means. A monumental accomplishment of the movement was its success in converting many non-Christians and nominal Christians to its worldview and course of action even if it could not convert them to its faith. This is a success that subsequent movements have not only failed to accomplish, but failed even to attempt.
The civil rights movement put a deep and profound faith into action to make a difference in the world. I believe that the movement’s goals were an expression of the gospel. Not only that, but the means by which they sought to accomplish those goals through peaceful, loving, non-violent action was also an expression of the gospel. They put the teachings of Jesus into practice and changed the world for the better and left us a great example of what the church can accomplish. That is why I celebrate the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and that is why I celebrate this day.
*All too often as a nation, we sanitize the struggle for racial justice, forget the work that was done for economic justice, and act as if both have been fully realized.