Dr. King - A Legacy of Audacious Faith and Hope
Today marks the 45th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We are deeply indebted to the work of this preacher, prophet, and leader. His legacy continues to impact our lives and our culture. His message of audacious faith and hope in the face of oppression and injustice beckons us all to continue to pursue his dream of true equality and justice for all.
Three years ago I had an amazing opportunity to travel to Atlanta with a group of fellow Christian Theological Seminary students as a part of our senior course on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught by King scholar Dr. Rufus Burrow, Jr. There were many moving moments during the trip; standing in Dr. King's Ebenezer Baptist Church, visiting the King Center, paying respects to Dr. King and Coretta Scott King at the graveside reflecting pool and fountain, and walking the campus of Morehouse College (Dr. King's alma mater).
However, the most important moment for me was our visit to the Robert W. Woodruff Library at the Atlanta University Center. Once inside the library, our group was escorted into a room where spread out before us was a small portion of the expansive collection of original Dr. King documents from the Morehouse College King Collection. On three tables the group was overwhelmed to see notes and early copies of “A Knock at Midnight,” “Letters from the Birmingham Jail,” and Dr. King’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech on yellow notebook paper written in his own hand. As I stood and read the handwritten Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the experience. What an honor and what a privilege.
Yet, what struck me most while reading this relatively short piece was that even in the midst of a speech designed to thank the committee who awarded Dr. King with this prestigious honor one could hear his voice calling out to society in general, and the church in particular, to be the community which God had created it to be. In this acceptance speech we hear that Dr. King was convinced that the church was to be a people called to fight to establish “…a reign of freedom and a rule of justice.” This hope, this conviction, was deeply rooted in a belief that we as followers of Christ are called to be not only messengers of this freedom and justice, but to be its instrument. And the greatest tool in the arsenal of those who have committed to enter into this battle is not violence (whether physical, emotional or psychological), but it is love. In Dr. King’s own words, “…man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”
In the middle section of the speech, Dr. King wrote of ideas and concepts he refused to accept as true. In this section, even Dr. King’s pen stroke was more impassioned as his pen became the extension of his heart and his commitment to the cause. King wrote that he was unwilling to accept that humanity is on a path of destruction that nothing can stop; that humanity is unable to influence the events of the world; and that humanity is forever stuck in the “starless midnight of racism and war”. In the face of evidence that often pointed to the contrary position, Dr. King provided the church and culture itself with an example of the audacious belief that there is a different way for us all. Dr. King wrote that as the church, we must “have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.” He continued that we must “believe that what self-centered men have torn down, men other-centered can build up.”
As I read Dr. King’s words, I was convinced and convicted that God is indeed calling us all to a life characterized by such audacious faith and hope. We must have the courage to allow this audacious faith and hope to compel us to action. Dr. King was convinced that one day God will lift up every valley, bring every mountain low, make the uneven ground level and the rough places plain so the glory of the Lord will be revealed (Isaiah 40:4 and 5). On a day where we remember the life and legacy of Dr. King, may we recommit ourselves live with the audacity to join God in bringing this divine vision into reality.