What Will Our Response to the Eschatological Dream of Martin Luther King Jr. Be?

by Ed Stetzer and Gabriella Siefert

Today, we remember the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—a man who sacrificed much to advance the causes of the civil rights movement in the mid-twentieth century.

It was a time in history when most African Americans living in the states weren’t given their due as U.S. citizens or image bearers of God.

After the Civil war in the late 19th century, Jim Crow laws were established in the south keeping them from accessing the same basic public goods (education, public facilities etc.) as whites living in their town. In addition, voting rights were limited by voter literacy tests that were clearly put in place by states as a means to prevent African Americans from getting to the polls each election cycle.

But King saw all of this—a messy mass of racism, discrimination, and untold abuses of power—and still could somehow utter the words, “I Have a Dream.” His dream was founded on a scriptural understanding of justice and our response to the Kingdom of God at hand. In his famous, often quoted, ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, King referred back to the prophesies of old, calling for a day to come when justice would “roll on like a river” and righteousness like a “never failing stream” (Amos 5:24).

For years, King paddled up that stream with the currents of culture and legal precedent pressing towards him. He dealt with insults, abuse, imprisonment, and ultimately death for the sake of the cause he cared for so deeply. Despite the many forces fighting against King and his companions, their relentless pursuit of justice ultimately gave way to many of the governmental and societal reforms they had hoped for.

What about White Clergy?

King had to push other (white) clergy to join in his fight against injustice, not because they did not believe in it, but because they wanted to wait for the laws to change. King wanted justice and was willing to embody that call here and now, as he explained in an aptly described book, Why We Can’t Wait.

In a post-Jim Crow age, it’s easy to see the progress made by King’s labors; all the speeches, strikes, marches, and boycotts. They all seem worth it from a 2019 vantage point. But, at the time, many (particularly white pastors) agreed with King, but said that if King would just wait, the laws would change over time.

But, even today, those who fight for reform as King did often never see the results of their work in full view.

And, still, many want to sit by and keep quiet while the storm rages on assuming that the issues will figure themselves out with time.

What about Now?

That said, despite the many advances for African Americans brought about by the civil rights movement, most acknowledge that we still have a way to go. Mass incarceration, police brutality, and other injustices devalue members of the African American community, further widening the gap that King worked so hard to close several decades ago.

These realities beg the question: Why bother? If addressing injustice is more of a never-ending cycle than a system of quick fixes, what makes it worth it? If reformers like King never get to see the full fruits of their years of labor, why plant the seeds at all in the first place?

Interestingly, I have had friends come to me on more than one occasion asking, “Why do you keep writing on this subject?” They say that when they do, it results in blowback— trying always leads to failure.

And I get it, this is understandable, to a degree.

Of course, the reality is my actions are nothing compared to the actions of many others, particuarly my African American brothers and sisters. About ten days ago, I sat around a bonfire with African American and Anglo pastors and listened to the dialogue about how we must learn from one another. Among other things, our African American pastor friends wanted and needed their Anglo pastor friends to speak up and speak out.

But why should Anglo pastors get involved? I know the pushback I get every time I speak or write. Some say you did not address things rightly, others say you should not address them at all, and invariably, some think you go too far and some think you did not go far enough.

This Sunday, at Moody Church, I mentioned Laquan McDonald in discussing our yearning for justice. Someone asked me why I did so. It’s simple— because ambassadors for the God of Justice care about earthly justice while waiting for the second coming that brings all justice.

And, here’s the fact: if you keep your head down and don’t mention it at all, then you don’t have to deal with the pushback in the first place (as people remind me regularly).

But, there is a reason. And, it is (at least in part) eschatological in nature.

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Source: Christianity Today