In a totally unrelated issue to the Memorial – less than 24 hours ago – I had an online conversation with a learner in a course I am facilitating about Christian Doctrine.
I will post my comments to that learner here – but will say simply that I think it is emphatically important that we remember the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and not just “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”
The learner wrote in my class:
“ Dr. King, Jr. was a political icon that kept religion in politics."
Dear Learner ~
I start every class I teach on campus with a video that is about MLK Jr..
So, please know that my comment is meant to be corrective in the best sense - and not a challenge to you!
But, I disagree that "Dr. King Jr. was a political icon that kept religion in politics."
Rather, I would note, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was a pastor who corrected misaligned politics with Biblically grounded religion!
Dr. King, in all of his sermons and his public writings - was a pastor - a preacher - and a theologian who used his theological orientation - not his "political" ideas - to shape politics.
And it wasn't just "religion" - it was Biblically grounded Christian identity and Christian Theology!
Dr. King shaped politics - no doubt! Yes he did! But he did so not as a politician, but always as a theologian, pastor, and preacher.
The last time he spoke - as with most of his speeches - it was in a church, behind a pulpit.
Among other great things in that final sermon he said,
We need all of you. And you know what's beautiful to me is to see all of these ministers of the Gospel. It's a marvelous picture. Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher? Somehow the preacher must have a kind of fire shut up in his bones. And whenever injustice is around he tell it. Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, and saith, "When God speaks who can but prophesy?" Again with Amos, "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream." Somehow the preacher must say with Jesus, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me," and he's anointed me to deal with the problems of the poor.""
It's all right to talk about "long white robes over yonder," in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here! It's all right to talk about "streets flowing with milk and honey," but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can't eat three square meals a day. It's all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God's preacher must talk about the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do.
Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation. And I want to thank God, once more, for allowing me to be here with you.
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
And so I'm happy, tonight.
I'm not worried about anything.
I'm not fearing any man!
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!
That marks the end of my conversation with that learner - and here I end this entry with these thoughts.
I wish more memorials were built to commemorate peacemakers.
Though there was opposition and conflict in the episodes of the struggles Rev. King and many others engaged, their struggles were for a more peaceable and just system for life.
I think, as you can tell - it is profoundly important that we remember the Rev. Dr. King for who he truly was at the level of his ideas (his ideology). He was, as much as anything else, and perhaps more than anything else, a person who read from and interpreted Jewish/Christian Scripture.
And his generous and gracious discernment of important broad themes and important recurring strands of key ideas in the Jewish/Christian Scripture, as a minister, shaped his role and place in world history.