As we turn to celebrate another Martin Luther King Day, in a year in which our nation will observe the 50th anniversary of his assassination, it is incumbent upon each of us to reflect on the values and principles on which Dr. King stood for and died for.
Admittedly, we have made some racial progress since 50 years ago. But it is no surprise that we still have a long way to go.
As a leader of all people, when fighting for civil rights in the face of oppression, ignorance and violence, Dr. King never chose fear. He always chose courage and determination. He refused to allow prison, violence and the threat of death to sway his mission. Instead, he stood firm on his goal of achieving rights for all through nonviolent protest and the power of his voice.
“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend,” Dr. King wrote in his sermon Loving Your Enemies, which he included in his book, Strength to Love. He lived by and stood for the principle of non-violent resistance to a system that had oppressed and suppressed millions of people for over 200 years.
Even in an era where there was antagonism, cynicism and intolerance toward any and every difference, Dr. King stood for the human dignity and validity of every person regardless of nationality or ethnicity.
A responsibility to all people
“In the end,” said Dr. King, “we will remember not the word of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” In other words, Dr. King believed that those who have the ability to speak out against injustice, cruelty and inhumane treatment of any kind have a responsibility to do so for the collective consciousness of a nation that is losing its moral compass.
Dr. King famously stated, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Personally, I don’t believe Dr. King was referring to a fluffy kind of love that only sees the world through rose-colored lenses. I believe he had a different kind of love in mind.
The kind of love referenced resonates with those of us who have been transformed by the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is that kind of love that obligates us not to sit in the seat of the scornful, but to challenge the systems that will deny any person equal justice under the law and deny any person the dignity that comes from being born in the image of God. (See Gen. 1:26-27, Ps. 139:14, Rev.7:9.)
As believers, we have a responsibility to protect the human rights of all people. Jesus teaches us, “when you do it to the least of these” – i.e, fail to serve, protect, and fight for the oppressed and marginalized – “you do it unto Me.” (Matthew 25:40 paraphrased)
A lifelong fight to do the right thing
“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable,” Dr. King wrote in his first book, Stride Toward Freedom. “Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifices, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertion and passionate concerns of dedicated individuals.”
He was attempting to challenge our country to prepare for a lifelong fight to do the right thing. In fact, the climate of our nation and our world should concern all true believers. Sadly, we are more divided as a nation now than we have been in recent history. There seems to be very few universal solutions in the foreseeable future.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Dr. King wrote from a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, after he was arrested for taking part in nonviolent protests in the city.
We have to ask ourselves this question: Is what is being done to the least of these and those who are the most vulnerable right? If not, what can we do individually and corporately to address the issues facing our nation and our world?
Dr. King stated, "A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.” An appropriate addendum is, “A man dies when he is silent about the things that matter to God.” (See Amos 5:24, Micah 6:8, Isa. 1:17, Zech. 7:9.)
The church (universal) must not remain silent. We must begin to use our individual and collective voices to speak out and address the injustices of our nation and our world.
How do we do this? It may seem like such a daunting task for one individual to begin to address such monumental issues. I agree. I, too, have felt overwhelmed at times. But as the saying goes, the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.
What can we do?
“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people, but the silence over that by the good people,” said Dr. King.
We must not let our nation be defined by hate groups and groups that are established to divide us based on superficial dividing lines.
What can “we” do?
We must speak out in our sphere of influence. We must not let any political or social group speak on our behalf if it doesn’t stand for what we stand for. The most basic right we have is the first amendment right of freedom of speech. Let’s begin to use the rights we have been given to speak for people who can’t speak for themselves.
As a person of color, when I see some of the inequities of our nation and those of groups seeking to further divide us based on basic inequities, I often ask myself, “Where are my brother and sisters of the majority culture whom I know don’t promote inequities? Why aren’t they saying something?”
Likewise, when I see hate on any level, I wonder why there aren’t more of our leaders of color speaking against hate of any kind.
My appeal is my attempt to say it is time we speak and say what Jesus compelled us to say. Dr. King stood for our voices having power and authority as long as we choose to use them for good and not for evil.
Are we willing to make a commitment to speak up for what is right and not tolerate that which is wrong?
Use your voice
As we celebrate another MLK Day, let’s determine to speak up and speak out against all wrongs that will marginalize and discriminate against anyone based on race, gender, social economic status or any other superficial dividing line.
You will be surprised by the power of one voice – your voice. It literally can change the way of life for us all. If Dr. King had not used the power of his voice, we would not have made the progress that we have made. We are at least one step closer to seeing one of his dreams achieved.
“I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
My sincere prayer is that we will not be afraid to use our individual and collective voices. That is how we will see the day that Dr. King referred to.
There is power in each voice – beginning with your voice.
Dr. Michael L. Henderson, Vice President of National Ministries
Dr. Michael L. Henderson Sr. is Converge’s vice president of National Ministries. He founded New Beginnings Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1999, along with his wife and only 12 members. Through his faithful leadership, the church has grown to over 7,000 members. Henderson is a native of Akron, Ohio, where he began his ministry work. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication and theology at the International Bible Institute and Seminary, Orlando, Florida. He is also a graduate of Ashland Theological Seminary, Ashland, Ohio, with a Master of Arts in church administration and counseling. In October 2009, Dr. Henderson received an honorary Doctorate of Divinity from St. Thomas Christian College in Jacksonville, Florida.