Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the most revered figures in American history, and rightfully so. We’re all well acquainted with his non-violent leadership during the 1960’s Civil Rights movement that changed an entire nation and the world.
As time has drifted by, and culture has become more hostile to the idea of faith, the underlying basis for all of MLK’s actions has gradually slipped further and further into the background of the national conversation. Even at his D.C. memorial site, there are over a dozen quotes etched in stone. Many are from sermons – and there’s even a direct Bible quote – but the words God or faith aren’t anywhere to be found.
Less focus is placed on the driving motivation behind everything the Baptist minister did, and instead his entire essence is reduced to a few (albeit, great) quotes edited down to meet safe secular standards.
It’s equally important – if not more – to know why King did what he did, not just what he did. Why was he non-violent? Why did he care about justice? Why was he courageous? Who was it that inspired him more than any other?
Jesus. That’s who.
Martin Luther King Jr. was a devout Christian who loved God and The Bible. He and his father named after the famous christian Martin Luther. He was a Reverend, but again, rarely is that a term to be lauded in today’s culture.
He was courageous because he was faithful. He was great because he was godly. That’s what made him so dangerous to segregationists. And that’s why totalitarians in every era always go after believers first. They fear the power of God’s love most of all.
It was love at the center of King’s message. King always preached nonviolence, and always carried himself with dignity no matter the circumstances, and he did so because his God commanded it. He commanded that King love his neighbor as himself — all of his neighbors, not just those who treated him well.
Christian faith was at the heart of the civil rights movement, precisely because it was at the heart of who Martin Luther King Jr was. The very same Christian faith at the center of much mockery these days. When politicians, or anyone for that matter, make public appeals to God they are often beat back with angry rebukes. Gov. Mary Fallin was ruthlessly berated after calling for prayer for her state’s struggling oil industry.
Dare search the comments after a tragedy to see someone blithely mocking anyone who offers ‘thoughts and prayers’ to the victims.
King started the speech with a quote from Luke 11:5–6: “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’?”
He then leapt right into the speech:
“Although this parable is concerned with the power of persistent prayer, it may also serve as a basis for our thought concerning many contemporary problems and the role of the church in grappling with them. It is midnight in the parable; it is also midnight in our world, and the darkness is so deep that we can hardly see which way to turn. It is midnight within the social order.”
King then spent a short time talking about the miracles of modern science, but noted that even the greatest scientific theorem can’t solve the moral and spiritual problems of the modern age.
Amen – but that’s not what today’s culture believes. In fact, it believes quite the opposite. It practically worships at the altar of science. Could you imagine if someone read portions of this speech in front of some climate action groups today?
His motivation is rooted in a deep faith and love of Jesus, and he was unwavering in his commitment to the call. Check out what King Jr. himself described as his barometer for judging the morality of societies laws:
“How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.”
God was his beginning and ending point. The Bible, which some countries and many in America are calling bigoted and hateful, was what King deferred to.
King had contempt for the views of those who put ‘reason’ or ‘science’ in place of God:
“Moral principles have lost their distinctiveness. For modern man, absolute right and wrong are a matter of what the majority is doing. Right and wrong are relative to likes and dislikes and the customs of a particular community. We have unconsciously applied Einstein’s theory of relativity, which properly described the physical universe, to the moral and ethical realm … This mentality has brought a tragic breakdown of moral standards, and the midnight of moral degeneration deepens.”
With comments and quotes like these, it certainly makes one wonder if the actual MLK would be accepted by today’s faith-mocking culture as much as the cliff notes version. His guidepost for morality is the very same thing many today claim is hateful, bigoted, homophobic: God, Jesus, and The Bible.
Perhaps the most incredible testament to the faith of MLK, was less than 24 hours before his infamous and tragic death on April 4th, 1968. He delivered a speech which was littered with Bible references. He talked about everything from Egypt and the Red Sea, to the Roman Empire, and even Amos:
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 hard to imagine a cultural leader coming along today, claiming they ‘hath’ been anointed by the Spirit of the Lord to deal with the problems of the poor – and not be met with mockery. Perhaps that’s why this aspect of King is suppressed today. Because it’s crazy talk – to them.
So strong was King’s faith, that even when he knew there were death threats against him – just a day before his death – he told a crowd that he was at peace. ‘I don’t mind’ he said, contemplating the future.
He was not afraid – happy, even. Because King knew that no matter how many people wanted him dead – a Christian cannot be threatened with Heaven.
And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?
Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.
And I don’t mind.
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!!
Perhaps that’s the most incredible thing about Martin Luther King, Jr – his immovable faith. Despite everything, he sought God’s will above his own.
That’s a lesson not many mainstream outlets will trumpet these days, because the prevailing cultural winds don’t believe God’s will is good. They believe in their own definition of good.
And that’s a concept Martin Luther King Jr. soundly rejected.
Pray his legacy of faith is preserved by the Lord for many years as an example for generations to come.
But if not, heed the words of MLK himself: Don’t worry! Don’t be afraid, because we, as a people, will get to the promised land!