Martin Luther King Day, celebrated on the 3rd Monday of January every year, remembers the life and influence of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and specifically, his profound impact as a civil rights leader in the fight to end racial segregation in the United States. He was assassinated on April 4th, 1968, but much of King's work led to a ripple effect of change in our country, carrying beyond the span of his life.
How should Christians reflect on the work and mission of Dr. King? Although he was by no means perfect, Dr. King's charge was steadily shaped by his faith. His movement's success was heavily attributed to his non-violent efforts, interwoven with the teaching of Scripture.
His most famous speech, "I Have A Dream," echoes impact and influences change even today for our nation. Given to thousands of supporters during the 1963 March on Washington, this speech served as the pinnacle of inspiration for King's movement. Infused with faith, King's speech painted a picture of a world in which people of different backgrounds, ethnicities, and skin color could go to school together, work together, belong together, and live in brotherly love with each other. As Christians, we must not neglect God's sovereign and directive hand in Dr. King's work, and we should take note of key elements in King's movement that align with the hope and aim of God's idea of unity and peace among His people. Through a gospel-redemptive lens, we find ways that Scripture affirms Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream.
All of Mankind is Made in the Image of God
Dr. King emphasized the beauty and necessity of living together with recognition of our Creator and His creation: "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed–we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal...." Dr. King encouraged the understanding and recognition–that all of mankind is created in the image of God–as a pivotal point in seeking racial reconciliation and respecting the dignity and worth of every man. God created mankind to image himself. Genesis 1:27 says, "So God created man in his own image; he created him in the image of God; he created them male and female" (CSB). In His image, God created people of all skin color, cultures, families, statuses, and abilities to be parceled out images of Himself–together giving a greater and fuller picture of who God is.
Racism is a Sin
A symbol or metaphor of sin often used in Scripture is that of darkness (1 John 1:5-6, Romans 1:21, Ephesians 4:18, 5:11). This same metaphor is referenced by Dr. King when he states, "Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation...Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children." The Bible is clear that those who live in darkness live in sin. The sin of racism is a dark result of partiality (James 2:8-9), pride (Proverbs 16:5), and hatred (1 John 3:15). Racism is the fruit of favoring one group over another to the point of elevating yourself to be superior and acting unfairly, unjustly, and impartially toward the other. Not only does God despise it, but this is also a heinous misrepresentation of God and His character and should not be tolerated among God's people.
We are Called to Unity Among Brothers
Martin Luther King was fighting for brotherhood–for a familial bond that drew men and women together across racial lines. He explained, "With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day."
As Christians, we know that in Christ, true unity is found (Galatians 3:28). The answer to tearing down racial barriers and building up brotherhood rests in the transforming power of the Lord Jesus Christ. In Christ, we see the command to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39), to consider others above ourselves (Philippians 2:3-4), and to seek peace and pursue it (Psalm 34:14). Not only does Christ unite us in Himself, but He welcomes us into His family, and that family surpasses bloodlines (John 1:12-13). The call to unity is the call of Christ.
While aspects of Dr. King's dream have come to fruition since the era of this pivotal speech and movement, there is still more work to do. We struggle in a fallen world, seeking peace and justice for all, hoping in the day when Jesus returns, and all is made right in the world. Today, racial division remains, with the stain of generational sin still prevalent and continued discrimination in a variety of economic, educational, and systematic settings. As Christians and by God's grace, we have the opportunity to continue in this work of racial reconciliation in our homes, churches, workplaces, and the world. With humility and fervor, consider these questions:
- Have you considered racial prejudices in your own thinking that you need to repent of?
- Are you humbly listening to your brothers and sisters who have been subject to the evils and mistreatments of racism?
- Do you take notice of environments and settings that may be uncomfortable for your
- minority friends?
- Are you actively and graciously exposing and speaking against racial mistreatment?
- Are you surrounding yourself with a diverse community of people?
- Are you fervently praying for unity and diversity in your church?
By God's grace, we are stumbling forward. The sin of racism has been a dark and continuous part of our history, but God has used men like Martin Luther King Jr. to expose and fight against the specific evil of racial segregation. As Christians, we know that real change is possible and that we will be held accountable for the way we have treated our brothers and sisters. The church, in faith and hope, must lead the way. Though we seek and pursue it in an earthly sense, we can hope for unity in its final realization in heaven. A glorious picture of true racial reconciliation is found in Revelation 7:9-12, where we read of the redeemed people of God as "a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb." In eternity with Jesus, this dream becomes a reality.