Equality through Christian principles: MLK Jr. in his own words


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, a Baptist minister, is best known for his dream of racial equality in America — a dream we are still working to fully realize today. While many professing Christians were on the wrong side of the fire hoses and lunch counters in Birmingham and elsewhere during the Black Civil Rights struggle, King — a devout Christ-follower — trusted in the full armor of God to ultimately overcome his contemporary adversaries.

It is no surprise King looked toward his faith to preach equality, as the Apostle Paul makes it quite clear that in Christ ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free,… for we are all one’ (Galatians 3:28). Jesus also dealt head-on with racial identity issues when you consider both the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) and the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10).

Furthermore, when the Spirit came to the upper room (Acts 2), it was through expressions of many of the known languages at that time — not just one. And in the coming age, Revelation makes it clear that men and women from every tongue, tribe, and nation will stand before the Lord in praise (Rev. 7:9).

So as our society slides further and further from a God-centered world view, what might that mean for equality of all citizens? Black, Hispanic, White, Jew or Greek, rich or poor? If we’re all reduced to biological accidents that can be aborted for any reason, how do we truly accomplish King’s dream of valuing the equality of all human life?

I don’t have answers to those questions, but I do know true solutions can’t be found apart from a God-centered worldview. Martin Luther King knew this, and we would do well to remember it.

So on this day that we observe the holiday celebrating the life and accomplishments of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr, I’d like use the platform of this blog to share writings and quotes from King that resonate with me — most of which stem from his role as reverend, pastor, and fellow Christ-follower.

First, let’s begin with excerpts from his famed Letter from Birmingham Jail. This letter was actually written in response to an article from white religious leaders in the Birmingham newspaper who were concerned with King’s tactics. When explaining the reason for these tactics he wrote:

“The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: there are just laws, and there are unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘An unjust law is no law at all.’

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law, or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality.”

…If I lived in a Communist country today where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I believe I would openly advocate disobeying these anti-religious laws …

…If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands …”

— Excerpts from MLK’s ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’

King would definitely have been considered “counter cultural” in his day. The status quo is not something he had much patience for, especially when it meant dishonoring God. Here are a couple quotes attributed to King where he calls out both nominal Christians, and churches with the wrong priorities.

“God wants a church today that will bear the cross. Too many Christians are wearing the cross, and not enough are bearing the cross.”

“Too many churches are concerned with a cushion than following Jesus on the way of the cross.”

Next, King summarizes Matthew 5:38-48 and Romans 12:17-21 when speaking on the patience and love we must have for our enemies:

“The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding. It seeks to annihilate rather than to convert… Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue.”

And finally, his thoughts on the intersection of science and religion:

“Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals. They are complementary.”

Bottom line — as we continue to honor King and his legacy, let us not forget or ignore how deeply his principles and life were rooted and built upon his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.