The legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., is great. It seems that every major city in the United States has a street named after him. The meat of his legacy, of course, is in what he did in the fight for civil rights and how he did that through nonviolent means. Much of what I see in King’s approach reflects the values of the Kingdom. This is no surprise since King was a Christian minister. What is surprising is how those often claiming the label Christian have failed to pick up on the power in his approach, especially since it aligns itself with Kingdom values.
(1) The equality of persons. The movement led by King focused on the equality of the African American. This is reminiscent of a passage like Galatians 3:28 where “there is neither Jew nor Greek, . . . for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The Jewish-Gentile tensions in early Christianity appeared to be heavy, and the early Christians and the apostle Paul had to address this tension often.
(2) Nonviolent resistance. One of the emphases of King’s civil rights movement is that of nonviolence. Similarly, the Kingdom came through the proclamation of the gospel with love—a nonviolent method. True to the form of nonviolence, the early Christians were arrested and martyred. Jesus stated that the Kingdom was not of this world and that is why the disciples did not fight to stop the arrest (John 18:36). Yet, with this nonviolence came resistance: in the twentieth century it was resistance to inequality, while in the first, it was resistance to the forces of darkness.
(3) Social justice. In addition to civil rights, King also fought for the aid of the poor. Jesus and the Epistle of James and have similar exhortations. Truly, the Christian has the obligation to love one’s neighbor, and this includes the poor. While God is often found in suffering, the church is to help those who suffer.
King was not a perfect human being and often fell short, but the civil rights that were established because of him cannot be denied. Wherever we find Kingdom values upheld, whether this be through a believer in Christ or through a God-despiser, we find God’s intentions carried out. So we celebrate this day in honor of the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., who carried out those intentions.