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Why MLK Still Matters

Jan 20 2014
Evangelicals share how the civil rights leader continues to inspire them as Christians.

The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and days leading up to it force me into reflection. I often wonder how it was possible that an alarming number of Christians outright opposed Martin Luther King Jr. or failed to stand in solidarity with him during his lifetime. A large part of it was old, deep-seated, prejudices against African-Americans, Native Americans, and other brown-skinned brothers and sisters.

Today, most of us find the racist arguments used by slaveholders and by those who opposed King despicably false. Yet back then, many white Christians, especially in the South, lived according to these narratives about the institution of slavery and white supremacy. Those who dared to oppose their local church community, to go against the spoken and unspoken rules of Southern society, by siding with King were often branded radicals or Communists. Some were physically harassed.

Funny how yesterday's Christian radical can become today's Christian saint.

In reflecting on King's legacy, I wonder if there are similar issues in our day, where the seeming majority consensus among Christians is plain wrong. In those cases, would I be willing to go against that Christian consensus and risk my reputation by siding with those in the minority? Would I be willing to be called a radical? I'd like to think so.

I am just one voice in the church, but there are plenty of others taking the time to focus on Martin Luther King Jr. and how his legacy has inspired their lives as Christians.

Helen Lee, author and speaker, shares the significance King's impact holds for immigrant families in particular:

For a number of years now, on the third Monday of the first month of the year, our family follows a short ritual over breakfast. My husband fixes breakfast, and I sit down our three boys at the breakfast table, where we read Martin's Big Words together. And then we pull up a laptop and watch King's entire "I Have a Dream" speech together, and we talk about the significance that this historical figure has had not just for the entire country and world, but for our family in particular.

Had it not been for the work of Dr. King, and his influence in mobilizing the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, who knows how long it would have taken for the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 to pass, if ever. This was the act that opened the doors of immigration to Asians, Latin Americans, and Africans, who had largely been legally excluded from doing so. This was the act that allowed my parents to come to this country from South Korea, in search of a better life for themselves and their eventual children and grandchildren.

I want my kids to understand that the freedom and equality we have come to expect here in the U.S. are not to be taken lightly, but to be treasured given the sacrifices of so many who fought for these rights for us all, Dr. King chief among them. I want my kids to see with their own eyes that Christian role models come in all manner of racial and cultural backgrounds.

Despite the fact that we live in a country and society that legally guarantees equal liberties regardless of skin color, the reality is that race-related issues and conflicts still exist in the church and the world. I know my kids will have to be prepared to fight their own battles one day in the area of racial understanding and reconciliation, within and outside of the church.

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