The best preachers are not only able to diagnose our moral ills but to prescribe a compelling remedy for our healing. Part of the genius of Martin Luther King Jr. was his ability to interpret America's racial crisis and provide a nation with vivid illustrations of what racial injustice and man's inhumanity to man looked like. But he didn't stop there. He also worked to supply a hopeful picture of where we could go, a sort of travel brochure for what he called "the beloved community"—an integrated America that values justice, peace, and reconciliation.
"I Have a Dream" demonstrated not only King's remarkable way with words (he was, after all, a Baptist preacher) but also a grand imagination empowered by the Christian gospel that could see things others were yet to grasp. King helped America see people of color, working-class individuals, and those in stuck in poverty as flesh-and-blood human beings.
Today, as in King's era, we are experts at depersonalizing our ideological opponents, viewing them more as oppositional labels than neighbors whom we are commanded to love. In our contemporary clash of values, perhaps the thing we are missing most is the capacity as Christians to dream large and imagine a culture informed by kingdom values of grace, reconciliation, and justice. Such a culture will likely require more listening than arguing, more giving than posturing.
In 1963, King saw something big that we've only begun to envision. Fifty years later, the dreamer and his Dream are as relevant as ever.
Edward Gilbreath is the author of Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical's Inside View of White Christianity. His eBook on Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail" will be available next month from InterVarsity Press. He's onTwitter @EdGilbreath.