The legacy of the King has not changed

Yesterday we as Americans observed and celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who, if he was still alive today, would have turned 84 on January 15. The kids were out of school and my six year-old son in particular was full of questions about who Dr. King was and what he did. When I was a student at Wake Forest University from 1988-1992, I took a few courses in racial and ethnic studies, including a course specifically on the Civil Rights Movement. These classes were filled with the history and stories of men like Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and other Civil Rights visionaries who struggled for racial equality that, today, seems like a no brainer to most.

Yet as my son asked me questions I realized that I didn't really think all that much about the struggles that occurred among my black brothers and sisters during the 1950's and 1960's (and yes, I know that race issues are still alive and well today, but that period is the epicenter of the movement and the change that it spawned). Maybe it's because I was born after the height of segregation and subsequent integration or maybe it's because my skin is white. Either way, as much as I admire MLK and his legacy, I knew that my understanding of his work and vision were too limited to do him justice.

In order to better explain to my son and my other children who Dr. King was, I found a documentary on Netflix entitled Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: A Historical Perspective and we sat down as a family to watch it. Compacted into one fact-filled hour, this movie detailed the timeline of King's life from his early beginnings as a pastor to Civil Rights champion to his untimely and tragic death. My son had lots of questions and I was ashamed at many of the answers that I had to give him. He rightly pointed out that we have many black friends and how to him, as well as to our family, skin color is not an issue. 

As I watched this video I was struck by more than just Dr. King's courage in standing up for the rights of African Americans to be treated and accepted as equal citizens of the United States and the world. I was especially moved by his zeal for the gospel of Jesus Christ. As a limited student of history, my assumption has been that most of the pastors who have championed Civil Rights over the years have used the pulpit primarily as a megaphone for only social justice, and that may be true of many. But this was not true of Dr. Martin Luther King.

Excerpts from Dr. King that were used for the film were filled with teachings from the gospels of Jesus Christ. These were not the full gospel presentations that we might hear at a crusade rally, but ever-present were the themes of redemption, forgiveness, and love. Indeed, to label Dr. King's agenda as purely political would be unfair and fabricated. Martin Luther King, Jr., preached and rallied and spoke on the kingdom of God first and foremost. And in that message of Jesus, he rightly proclaimed the necessity of the equality of man regardless of the color of his skin. In short, he preached the message of Christ.

Over the years since Dr. King's death, many groups have sought to extrapolate his message at best if not overtly hijack it to champion their own causes. And I'm okay with others using Dr. King's legacy in their pursuit of basic human rights and freedoms as long as they stay true to what his legacy was actually about - the gospel. The words of the true King Jesus Christ have not changed nor will they no matter how much men may choose to twist or distort them. Yet even a casual student of history will discover that it was the legacy of King Jesus that exemplified Dr. King's life's work and mission.

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