As America celebrates its 18th Martin Luther King holiday, it seems prudent to take a moment and review what actually animated the life of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King: his faith. It was part and parcel of who he was and how he operated. One rarely hears of King even referred to today by his title — that of Reverend. Could it be that the left wants to bury the power of King’s personal faith in favor of his civil and worldly accomplishments? True or not, it doesn’t obscure the fact that his Christian faith largely fueled and inspired his commitment to civil rights.
Born to the Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. and Alberta King in 1929, the young Martin was raised in a Christian family. As such, the backdrop for his formative years and the milieu in which he developed into a man was the church. The middle child of three, King sang in the choir and was often accompanied by his mother who served as organist and choir leader.
A gifted student who skipped two grades, King decided to enter the ministry at age 18 and went on to acquire a Bachelor of Divinity from Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. To separate the civil rights leader from his religion would be to miss the essence of the man — as King was Baptist through and through.
Dr. King’s first political organization was the Christian based – SCLC – or Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Their civil rights protests were organized in and around black churches and the moral authority of their cause was drawn from Biblical principles:
“Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies.’ It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So, love your enemies.”
The first time Rev. King addressed a national audience was at an SCLC event called the “Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom” which was held on the third anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. While there remains much disagreement today regarding Dr. King’s personal religious beliefs, it seems the highest and best way to garner a sense of his faith should be based on what he said about himself. At Ebenezer Baptist Church in 1968 King clearly stated how he wanted to be remembered:
“I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to love somebody.
I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. And I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.
Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major. Say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind.”
Like all believers, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King was just as much sinner as saint, and lived a life of many imperfections. But it does seem mendacious that a superficial leftist media narrative of King’s legacy should remove the essence of King as a man of faith. To do so would be to reduce him to little more than another worldly political figure. And that is precisely the manner in which he said he did not want to be remembered.