I’ve been asked why I decided to include information about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in my book, “Walking in Love: Why and How?” Other related questions were why was his work so important? And, how does he inspire me?
This blog is intended to respond to those questions.
The answer to the first one is easy. The dedication of the book explains it clearly. It reads, “This book is dedicated to the Most Reverend Michael B. Curry, Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church. It was his leadership and preaching on the redemptive power of love as he picked up the torch lit by the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that, by the grace of God, motivated me to write this book”.
I was moved to action to write the book after watching the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. I heard the address of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Church USA when he spoke so movingly on the subject of love, and its redemptive power.
Bishop Michael was taking his lead from a 1957 sermon on the theme of “Loving Your Enemies”, delivered by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala.
There is a direct quote from that sermon that Bishop Michael picked up on. The full quote from the sermon is: “It seems to me that this is the only way. As our eyes look to the future, as we look out across the years and across the generations, let us develop and move right here. We must discover the power of love, the power, the redemptive power of love. And when we discover that, we will be able to make this old world a new world”. We will be able to make men better. “Love is the only way.” The words in italics are the ones Bishop Michael used in his address.
So, it was the inspiring words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that were the moving force behind both Bishop Michael’s address and me writing the book and why I used the words I did in my dedication of the book to Bishop Michael and Dr. King.
It goes further than that, however.
As I have mentioned in other places, I am racially mixed (but it is not quite so obvious). I grew up in the American Southeast. I was privileged, to some extent, by going to white schools and growing up in the white part of town. I saw black folks working under extreme situations of oppression and heard them singing as they worked, in spite of their hardships. It moved me deeply. It also taught me that, whatever the situation you find yourself in, you can still live with grace and dignity, and find joy in living, at the same time. That was before Dr. King, Jr. appeared on the scene.
In my youth and innocence I thought, “Why do they allow themselves to be used in this this way? Why don’t they revolt against their oppressors?” I realized later that this is not a simple question to answer.
One common answer was that they had little choice. This was the way it was. You do the best you can under the circumstances. The only alternative was violence. That would be un-Christian, however and, in my opinion, these people were some of the finest Christians God ever made.
Dr. King came along and provided a third alternative: non-violent protest. That worked. Why did it work?
White ministers of the gospel had given black folks other alternatives, but their leadership was often problematic. Some said things like, “You’re lazy! Get up and do your job without complaining. Make something of yourself”. An appropriate human response to such talk is, “It’s fine for you to say that from your elevated throne of privilege”.
When people talk like that example, they put people down when ministers of the gospel are supposed to help lift people up. They’re supposed to do that by pointing out Jesus’ call for people to follow his example. Indeed, Jesus said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all people unto me”. ( John 12:32)
As a black man, Dr. King provided a noble alternative to people – his example of Christian leadership. He took the words and example of Jesus Christ and applied them in his life. Unlike some other preachers he didn’t talk down to people. He was one of them. If they suffered, so did he.
In my book, I asserted that this problem of people being talked down to was a major problem with just giving people a code to live by. These rules were said to have God as their source. That God, was perfect and without flaw, unlike the creatures the rules were being applied to. This disconnect created a difficulty that God addressed by sending Jesus, his only son, to live and die as one of us. Jesus didn’t have the problem of talking down to people because he was one of them, by his own choice. This is the great orthodox Christian tradition that Jesus willingly “emptied himself” of divine privilege so that he could show people how an ordinary person could live a righteous life by following his teachings and example.
From that perspective, Dr. King was just what black folks needed – a leader who did not talk down to them from a privileged position. In my book I used the phrase, that Dr. King was a “black Jesus”. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that Dr. King was divine like Jesus or sinless. I am saying that he did his best to imitate his Lord Jesus in his own life and he did a great job of that. He did such a good job that he drank from the same cup of martyrdom that his Lord Jesus drank from. I’m told that Dr. King sort of knew what was coming and could have walked away, but he didn’t. Doing so would have tarnished everything he had worked so hard for and betrayed his great love for the people of God.
This is the core teaching of my book. That each of us has the capacity to overcome our human limitations in wisdom and strength and become “completed” in our ability to love others as God loves them. We overcome our limitations in wisdom and strength by relying on God to “fill in the blanks” where we are lacking, under any given circumstance. And, by aligning our own life with God’s will, gain the joy that will transform us in our ability to love.
This is what Jesus taught by his life and teachings and Dr. King did such a good job of understanding and following that example. The more the rest of us are able to do that, the better our world will become. It’s that simple. To me, this is how the “kingdom of God” gets built on this earth.