Monday, February 15, 2010

Dr. King: An Irenic Example With Moral Courage

Since February is Black History month I’ve made it a point to revisit Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by renting video documentaries. Everything Vickie and I have watched has consisted of film footage and interviews and I haven’t detected anything that leans toward hagiography. Dr. King was not perfect, but to use his imperfection as an excuse to belittle or ignore his moral courage in the social arena, and to not learn from his non-violent and visionary words and deeds, is to fail to appreciate and learn from a remarkable man.

And just to try to make my point: who among us would want our unedited thoughts, words, and our deeds projected on Power Point for the entire world to see? Now let me proceed.

Dr. King was, first and foremost, a Baptist preacher. This comes out again and again in his own words and in the words of those who knew him. Dr. King’s message concerning the dignity of human beings was based on God creating man in His image – without this bedrock conviction could Martin Luther King, Jr. have faced the constant physical danger and emotional and psychological strain that he did? Without a Biblical foundation would not Dr. King have caved into political pressure to back-off on his activities and speeches – as the White House pressured him to do on more than one occasion?

This leads to a point which I have not considered before now: Dr. King was able to resist the intoxication of the White House – of being in proximity to the seat of the greatest power in the world – he remembered that he was a man on a mission and was somehow able to maintain his course and resist the raw and direct power of the President of the United States, which few people, including religious leaders, are able to do.

When Dr. King was accused of being a communist his first response was to point out that he was a Baptist preacher and to demonstrate the incompatibility of atheistic communism with, what we call today, a Biblical worldview.

Lately I’ve been reading about uncivil political discourse as if it is something new on the American political scene. It has been with us from the beginning. Our political history is rife with slander and character assassination which has often destroyed lives; just ask Andrew Jackson about his wife Rachel, or ask John Adams about Thomas Jefferson’s underhanded campaign to destroy him, or read the political cartoons and commentary in Northern papers on Abraham Lincoln. We have always been street fighters, the Marquess of Queensberry rules have never applied to American politics.

Yet Dr. King was able to irenically articulate a substantive message in a vortex of hatred – he did not engage in vitriolic as far as I can see. Here is something that we can all learn from Martin Luther King, Jr. – how to communicate peacefully and yet firmly in a society in chaos, in a polarized political and social arena. I’ll pick this up in my next post.


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