“He was a pastor,” the Rev. Bernice A. King, daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr. said on the 50th anniversary of his “I Have A Dream” speech. “He was a prophet. He was a faith leader.”
“We can never forget as we celebrate, as we remember,” she continued, “that it was that faith and the spirit of God itself that fueled, that infused the movement that led to great change and transformation in the 50’s and 60’s.”
King, of course, advocated peaceful non-violence, despite years of abuse and arrest. Where do we think he got the idea?
“It was the Sermon on the Mount, rather than a doctrine of passive resistance, that initially inspired the Negroes of Montgomery to dignified action. It was Jesus of Nazareth what stirred the Negroes to protest with the creative weapon of love,” King wrote in Stride Toward Freedom. “As the days unfolded, however,” King continued, “the inspiration of Mahatma Gandhi began to exert its influence. I had come to see early that the Christian doctrine of love operating through the Gandhian method of nonviolence was one of the most potent weapons available to the Negro in his struggle for freedom.”
There is little doubt that evil has been done in the name of Christianity and religion (sadly, including some misguided defenses of segregation, and before that, of slavery), but it’s also absurd to ignore or downplay the unavoidable connection between people of faith and the abolitionist and civil rights movements.
Whether it was William Wilberforce devoting his life to banning the British slave trade, or Rev. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference bearing the cross, so to speak, for America’s original sin, there is plenty of evidence that people of faith can — and must — be a force for good in the world of politics.
As we observe the birthday of Dr. King, it would do us well to also remember Rev. King.