Next to Jesus and the Apostle Paul, no leader has influenced me like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose life and legacy we honor annually during this time of year. My parents and influencers shared the message and ministry of Dr. King during my formative years. I recall visiting the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site as a child…walking through his birth home, listening to his vibrant speeches, not understanding the images of hatred that I saw, and then staring at his tomb stone there. It was clear to me, even as a child, that his message did not die in the grave. The reason it did not die is because his message was the good news of the gospel which transcends time and space; it was universal good news for all who had ears to hear it, and it was a message for which he laid down his life.
I grew to honor and respect his leadership even more during my college years. As a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy (USNA), my sacred space was the time I spent in worship as a member of the USNA Gospel Choir. Every year we traveled to Atlanta, Georgia during the MLK Holiday weekend to celebrate his legacy and the life of his dear wife, Coretta Scott King, who shared in his ministry and suffering. Annually, we sung at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church where Dr. King and his father, “Daddy King,” formerly pastored. So I have had the honor of singing for Mrs. King, several Civil Rights heroes, and hearing their stories first hand. It was in those moments, at the church and that center where I always found myself deeply connected to the struggle for racial equality, freedom and justice for all, and the belief that people of faith—particularly those of us who are Christians—can be the called out ones who lead the rest of the world by embodying and proclaiming God’s good news for His creation, and affirming our citizenship and allegiance to the now and not yet kingdom where Christ alone is King.
I attended a worship service on Monday morning at High Point University where Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, the current senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church where Dr. King and his father co-pastored together, cautioned us against praising and remembering a Dr. King whom we have romanticized and created in our own image. Yes, Dr. King had a dream, yet that is not all that he spoke. The real Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man and prophet, much like John the Baptist who said, “prepare ye the way of the Lord.” He was a man who proclaimed God’s victory over violence…the violence of racism, the violence of poverty, and the violence of injustice for it was Dr. King who said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” He was a radical, determined, and truth telling leader sent to raise our consciousness —that was the cause for which he died.
President Lyndon B. Johnson and Martin Luther King, Jr. at the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965