Whenever people try to describe the contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to today’s America, their words fall short – and with good reason. Dr. King is a seminal figure in America’s history, and like any great leader, his influence will always be a challenge to articulate. I am always blown away when I think about how God used him to lead a much-needed cultural renewal. And with each passing year, I see more and more how abhorrent systemic racism was – and, unfortunately, continues to be. The details may look a little different now than they did during Dr. King’s lifetime, but many of the same issues are still at play in our contemporary society.
Dr. King functioned in modern America much like the biblical prophets did in ancient Israel. Prophets always call into question the status quo and make people take stock of what is really going on in their land. A prophet is brave enough to shine a light on problems that their world has grown accustomed to – and energize a vision for a future that is different than what anyone could imagine on their own. Prophets destabilize cultural blind spots and show us the way things ought to be.
That’s exactly what Dr. King did for the generations before us, and that’s what he still does today.
Sometimes we don’t realize how wide-ranging his influence has been. He wasn’t limited to discussions of racial inequality. He brought so much more out in the open that made people think about how things could be.
His words still ring loud and clear. And I hope the church today is listening. Check out these powerful words from “Letter From Birmingham Jail”:
“If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the 20th century.”
You know how sometimes you’re reading a new book and you get a few chapters in and you can already guess the ending? This is one of those stories. You guessed it…by all accounts, these particular words of Dr. King’s fell on deaf ears in his generation and the generation that followed.
But here’s what I’m hoping…maybe, just maybe, our generation will have ears to hear.
Believe it or not, popular opinion statistics say the church is sliding more and more into the predicament Dr. King envisioned: in today’s culture, the Church – the people of God, are seen as an irrelevant social club that lacks any meaning for the majority of our society. We are designed to be God’s agent of change in the world, but people write us off as disconnected and out of touch with reality. Why is that? Much of the western world sees the Church as silent when it comes to the biggest issues that concern the rest of the world. And when they do see the Church speaking up, often they are confronted by people who are angry, fearful, frustrated, or apathetic.
But that reality doesn’t have to be our reality. For those who believe and follow Jesus, if we can simply hear and respond to Dr. King’s words, we know the Spirit will lead us to a more beautiful future.
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