|Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Wikimedia|
Forty-two years tomorrow, Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed at the prime of his life in Memphis, Tennessee.
“Shattered dreams,” a sermon King wrote as he sat in a Georgian jail cell, begins by recalling the Apostle Paul’s desire to bring the Gospel to Spain. Paul’s life had ended in martyrdom at Rome, and it is assumed by most Bible scholars that he never made it to Spain. Paul’s experiences, in many ways, seem to foreshadow what happened to King. While King lived to see the legal end of desegregation, the “promised land” of integration still faced a long, turbulent struggle.
King made at least two appearances in northern Indiana during the 1960’s. In October of 1963, he gave a lecture entitled ‘Facing the Challenge of a New Age” to the Citizens' Civic Planning Committee in South Bend. In 1960, just a few days after the famous march on Montgomery, he spoke at Goshen College.
Several years before his death, the famous pastor put together an anthology, Strength to Love, which consists of fourteen of his sermons and a updated version of the autobiographical article “Pilgrimage to nonviolence.” This final chapter in the book traces King’s journey from a young man of privilege “raised in a rather strict fundamentalist tradition,” (p. 146) through the embracing of Liberalism during his education, to a more moderate position as he became involved in the civil rights movement.
What is most striking through the book is King’s deep faith. Some have doubted whether the man was a “true Christian,” but it is hard to imagine even conservative evangelicals coming to that conclusion after reading this book. Staunch Calvinists may balk at much of what King has to say, but those of us who still believe in Free Will will find little to quibble over theologically.
King’s faith in God and emphasis on love is refreshing in the current political climate where both sides of the political fence, while often evoking God’s name, also seem to be intent on spreading vitriol. King sought to open up dialogs through peaceful demonstrations, entreating what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.” Too often today’s rhetoric shuts down dialog by appealing to our baser instincts, such as bigotry, hatred, and fear.
King’s ideals went beyond bringing about change through nonviolent protest and civil disobedience. He knew that what the nation needed was not just a change of laws, but a change of heart. This is why he rejected the Communist model. While Communism’s ideal of a society of equals where everyone’s needs are met is laudable, the means by which it sought to accomplish this were the antithesis of Christianity. Communism was based on a materialistic philosophy which leaves out God. Change was forced on the community, with “the ends justifying the means,” and the ultimate value is in the state, not the people.
However, there is also a danger in capitalism with its ultimate in the profit motive. As King points out (p. 103-04),
Capitalism may lead to a practical materialism that is as pernicious as the theoretical materialism taught by Communism.
We must honestly recognize that truth is not found in traditional capitalism or in Marxism. Each represents a partial truth. Historically, capitalism failed to discern the truth in collective enterprise and Marxism failed to see the truth in individual enterprise. Nineteenth-century capitalism failed to appreciate that life is social and Marxism failed, and still fails, to see that life is individual and social. The Kingdom of God is neither the thesis of individual enterprise nor the antithesis of collective enterprise, but a synthesis which reconciles the truth of both.
The answer is not to be found in a political philosophy, but a change of heart. King was interested in more than forced legal integration, but a transformation of our characters as we cooperate with God, allowing him to change us from the inside out.
Evil can be cast out, not by man alone nor by a dictatorial God who invades our lives, but when we open the door and invite God through Christ to enter. ‘Behold, I stand at the door, and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.’ God is too courteous to break open the door, but when we open it in faith believing, a divine and human confrontation will transform our sin-ruined lives into radiant personalities. (p.126)
Tomorrow we remember the death of a great leader who was a catalyst for social change in America. He would also have us remember the life, death, and resurrection of the one who stands at the door of our hearts inviting us to let him in. It is only then that the ideals which Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed and talked about can become a reality.