MARTIN LUTHER KING’S SOLUTION TO RACISM
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the civil rights movement and fought for racial equality with something much stronger than tolerance.
By Charles Gilmer
The lingering vestiges of America’s past racism remain a serious challenge to our hope for a nation that lives out its most cherished values – liberty and justice for all.
Continued incidents, which stir racial tensions, remind us that hatred and animosity still fester. Suspicion lurks under the surface of many interactions. News events repeatedly remind us of the tenuous and fragile nature of racial harmony in the United States of America.
We seem to live under an uneasy truce.
It has been decades since the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was delivered. Yet none of us can say we have fully lived up to Dr. King’s vision of a land where each person would be judged by the content of their character, rather than the color of their skin.
Tensions continue, and regularly we hear of yet another incident somewhere in our country where race is presented as a precipitating factor.
Things are different today than they have been in the past. Yet the questions remains, why has it been so difficult for us to embrace and consistently live out Dr. King’s dream?
What has become of Martin Luther King’s Dream?
In the wake of the civil rights movement in which Dr. King was so dramatically used, there came a flood of social programs that sought to address the causes and consequences of racism. Cultural education, cross cultural dialogue, and the current multi-culturalism all hearken back to the civil rights movement for their mandates.
In the pursuit of the rights of various groups, under the civil rights umbrella, one thing has become clear. That which was called right by one group is often called wrong by another. Rather than resolving the differences, tolerance is championed as the appropriate response to the varying perspectives that have emerged. Yet tolerance has no cohesive nor healing power in society. It means little more than leaving one another alone. It leads to indifference, not understanding. Tolerance allows the gulfs between us to remain in place. In fact, there is little in the concept of tolerance to pull us away from racial isolation.
Tolerance brings with it an implicit moral relativism. Who is to say what is right and what is wrong? Moral relativism suggests that there are no absolutes to which we can all be held accountable. Such a thing was far from the thinking of Martin Luther King. In one of his works Dr. King makes the following statements:
“At the center of the Christian faith is the affirmation that there is a God in the universe who is the ground and essence of all reality. A Being of infinite love and boundless power, God is the creator, sustainer, and conserver of values….In contrast to the ethical relativism of [totalitarianism], Christianity sets forth a system of absolute moral values and affirms that God has placed within the very structure of this universe certain moral principles that are fixed and immutable.”
Dr. King did not speak in terms of tolerance. His ideal was love.
“Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” (Strength to Love, p. 51)
Yet, in current discussions of race relations the word love is seldom mentioned. Dr. King insisted love was the dominant or critical value by which we could overcome racial strife. The love he spoke of was a biblical love, one that is unconditional, unselfish and seeks the absolute good of another party. That kind of love is a tough love, one that confronts wrong and injustice with the truth — absolute truth as decreed by an all powerful God and enables the individual to love their enemy.
Martin Luther King’s Dream
As we consider giving new life to “The Dream,” we have to acknowledge that, in Dr. King’s speaking and writing, “The Dream” does begin with God. For without God, there is no absolute transcendent truth on which to base a call to justice. Nor is there any source from which to draw the strength to love about which he spoke.
A certain degree of skepticism about this perspective is understandable. Too often, those who claim to be Christians have failed to live in keeping with the clear teachings of the Christian Scriptures. These failures have frequently been in matters of race. It is clear from the Bible (and Dr. King affirmed) that the church ought to provide spiritual and moral leadership in society. However, as we observe the history of the American church, many parts of it have been passive, or even regressive, in matters of race. Even in the current era, the church speaks to the issues of the day with a fragmented voice. A case in point is the tendency for African-American clergy to align with Democratic candidates, while many white pastors align with Republicans. Yet, Dr. King implored people not to dismiss Christianity on the basis of these observations.
Dr. King lived in an era when the leadership of the church in addressing racism was even less credible than it is today. Dr. King clearly understood that to often there was a difference between what Christianity taught in the Bible and the varieties of Christianity observed around him. His life was devoted to challenging this nation to live out a more consistent obedience to the moral absolutes of the Bible. His repeated plea was for men and women to enter into the kind of personal relationship with God that transcended that which could be seen and that which was being experienced.
Hear Dr. King as he speaks to the man or woman who contends that God is unnecessary or irrelevant to our modern lives:
“At times we may feel that we do not need God, but on the day when the storms of disappointment rage, the winds of disaster blow, and the tidal waves of grief beat against our lives, if we do not have a deep and patient faith, our emotional lives will be ripped to shreds. There is so much frustration in the world because we have relied on gods rather than God. We have genuflected before the god of science only to find that it has given us the atomic bomb, producing fears and anxieties that science can never mitigate. We have worshiped the god of pleasure only to discover that thrills play out and sensations are short-lived. We have bowed before the god of money only to learn that there are such things as love and friendship that money cannot buy and that in a world of possible depressions, stock market crashes, and bad business investments, money is a rather uncertain deity. These transitory gods are not able to save us or bring happiness to the human heart. Only God is able. It is faith in him that we must rediscover. With this faith we can transform bleak and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of joy and bring new light into the dark caverns of pessimism.”(Strength to Love, p. 51)
Are you discouraged about the prospect of us never overcoming the racial divisiveness that permeates this nation? Or are you frustrated by your inability to genuinely love others who are different from you? Martin Luther King recommended faith in Jesus of Nazareth as antidotes for both maladies.
“Evil can be cast out, not by man alone nor by a dictatorial God who invades our lives, but when we open the door and invite God through Christ to enter. ‘Behold, I stand at the door, and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.’ God is too courteous to break open the door, but when we open it in faith believing, a divine and human confrontation will transform our sin-ruined lives into radiant personalities.” (Strength to Love, p. 126)
A relationship with God gives us the power to overcome whatever sin we may be struggling with, including the sin of racism. Racism stands not only as a barrier between people, but as an offense between us and God. The reason Dr. King could recommend Christ as a solution to the problem of racism is Jesus’ death on the cross paid the price for all of our sins. He then rose from the dead and now offers us the forgiveness of God and the power to live new lives. Dr. King put it this way:
“Man is a sinner in need of God’s forgiving grace. This is not deadening pessimism; it is Christian realism.” (Strength to Love, p. 51)
Our need for Jesus is truly the great equalizer of the races. We all are sinners in need of a Savior. We all stand before God, not on the basis of one race’s superiority over another, morally, culturally, financially, politically, or in any other way.
All the races of the world, all the cultures of the world, need the same Savior. His name is Jesus.
What Martin Luther King described as our need for a “divine and human confrontation” is offered at God’s initiative. It requires that we place our faith in what Jesus did as our own personal payment for sin, and inviting Him to enter our lives “when we open the door and invite God through Christ to enter.”
Dr. King’s words still ring true today. We can give new life to “The Dream,” following the path of Dr. King. Our path may not lead to martyrdom by an assassin’s bullet as it did for Martin Luther King, but it does lead to dying to our selfish ways and self-sufficiency. Such a faith is not a weak-kneed, escapist religious exercise, but a courageous pursuit of that which is ultimately good, right and true.
“In his magnanimous love, God freely offers to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Our humble and openhearted acceptance is faith. So by faith we are saved. Man filled with God and God operating through man bring unbelievable changes in our individual and social lives.” (Strength to Love, p. 51)
“The Dream” starts with God as revealed through His Son, Jesus Christ. Through a relationship with Him, we can be agents of healing in a world that is sick with racial and ethnic conflict. Won’t you seriously consider placing your faith in Christ, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did? God offers us this relationship with Him, and we simply respond:
Jesus Christ, I invite you to come into my life, to forgive me of my sin, to give me a new relationship with you. Bring into my heart your love and your power to love others. Thank you for transforming my life right now.
If you have surrendered to Jesus Christ, pray for a life-changing faith and a growing dependence on Him. Only He can bring into our hearts His supernatural love and the power to love others.
As God transforms our lives, we have the potential to embody that which Martin Luther King dreamed.
Thank you Dr. King for all you allowed God to do through you and thank you for the article Charles Gilmer .
He is the Founding and Past President of The Impact Movement, Inc., a partner ministry with Cru, which takes the truth of Jesus Christ to the campus, the community and the world by producing leaders of African descent who are spiritually focused, financially responsible and morally fit. He has spoken on campuses across the US and in Africa on race relations, missions and the Christian faith. He is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, and has been honored with a Doctor of Divinity degree by Carver Bible College. Charles and his wife, Rebecca, are currently studying at Princeton Theological Seminary. They have six children and seven grandchildren.
Great post! God created all men equal.. and yes, woman.. who came out of man.. 🙂
And that is such a revelation to some. Why do we try to fix stuff thats already been fixed? Just yield to the Lord. Pride is the down fall of all of us. More Jesus less pride. Good to hear from you Mary Ann. God speed the work he does in you.
Much love Tom
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“Yet none of us can say we have fully lived up to Dr. King’s vision of a land where each person would be judged by the content of their character, rather than the color of their skin.”
Maybe we have, maybe we do. Maybe “the content of our character” is the issue and not “the color of our skin”.
Thank you Tom ((hugs))
I would have to say for me there is room for work Paul. I would agree that my character anyone is flawed. I do however try to stay transparent with the Lord and allow the Holy Spirit of God to guide me and mold me. You are a wise man seeing skin color is not the issue. That is a large can of beans my brother. Man and culture has done so much damage that the only way it can be undone is through the love of God manifested through us. Thanks for your insight that I always have to think on for days. You are a blessing
Much love Tom
Tom, you stir stuff so well. Thinking stuff. And I love beans – the bigger the can – the better it is! 🙂
Beautiful post, Tom. We need God’s grace, His love, His perspective in order to view each other with the worth He imparted in each of us.
Thank you for your comment Susan. God speed!
Much love Tom
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Excellent thoughts here, and words from Dr. King as we struggle with hope, love and grace in the face of continued racism. Thank you Tom for sharing this article with us, full of wisdom and hope.
Yes thank you Susan for sharing this message. It is a shame that we are not any further along today than when he wrote it. He spoke from God’s heart for all mankind.
Much love Tom
He sure did, Tom.
Blessings to you and the family.
Susan I want to respectively challenge you on the word racism. Go to your bible and find one word that speaks of racism or about the color of skin.Then do a study where this started at. I think you will be surprised . When you call things by mans Ideal you get a man made solutions which will never yield fruit. However when you look at it from a biblical prospective you have to acknowledge God. Therefore it leaves no room for discussion it is truth and the truth will set you free. God has never changed his perspective today or through the years. Culture is a peculiar thing. God didn’t create it man did. If you go all the way back. God created main his image. The first time he scattered us was at the tower of Babel. Not to make us different colors or give us a new identity . That had already been established. Anyway study my lovely sister and I pray you see what I see. That is there is no racism in God’s world. For me. I will live in his world not what man has created. Martin Luther was a wise man. He listened to what God said. We have a ways to go to come together and be one in Christ. Lets do it God’s way.
Much love Tom
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “I dream of a day when people will be judged by the content of their character, rather than the color of their skin.” His dream was powerful and worthy. Yet, it has not been achieved. Why?
A common adage says that, “If you don’t define the target, you’ll miss it every time. King’s target was “character.” There are basically just two worldviews in the American culture–the Biblical worldview and the Humanist worldview.
Believers recognize character as a worthy target, but are distracted by so many false idols, that believers have little motivation to move continuously towards the target.
Humanists fail to recognize character as a worthy target. They dispute the existence of God or dilute religion to a point of little influence. In the absence of a strong belief in God, they assert that there is no objective truth and therefore no overarching set of values that applies to all people. Hence, character is simply defined out of existence.
Since believers are falling woefully short of the goal and Humanists refuse to even define a goal, it has become very difficult for the American culture to realize King’s dream of people being judged by the “content of their character.” To achieve King’s goal, Americans must first restore character as an unparalleled precious prize to be won (earned). It is the goal of a lifetime. What do YOU think?
Thank you for such a profound topic. I will be quick. I seek the character of Christ. Is there any other? Until we come to that,we will always come up short.
All believers should seek the character of Christ and easily give it lip service. But few are willing accept the fatigue of earnestly pursuing His character and building it into the life and lifestyle of the believer at a soul deep level. God help us as believers not only to accept the great and gracious gifts You have given us, but also accept the responsibility that is part of knowing and loving You. Amen!
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Yes my prayer as well. We need Christians that will make diciples and intercede for others daily carrying their cross.Thank you for these very truthful comments Dr. Lloyd it is such encouragement.
Here is one more thought on this great response you shared with us. Culture is man made. Now we know where we got racism. That’s not truth. Truth is it’s sin. Plain and simple. The antidote is Jesus. You when you bring Jesus in you can’t talk about racism. You have to deal with the bigger picture sin and separation from God. Martin knew this he talked to people and said racism but pointed them to Jesus as the answer.He knew nothing else would ever change that word or thinking. It had become culture. Invented by man. Not God.It had always been a lie and still remains so today. Thank you for letting me share with you my thoughts.
Much love Tom