Martin Luther King Jr.'s Dream in 2019: How Christians Can Draw Inspiration from MLK's Faith - Geneva College, a Christian College in Pennsylvania (PA)

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January 21, 2019

Martin Luther King Jr.'s Dream in 2019: How Christians Can Draw Inspiration from MLK's Faith

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is more than a day out of the office or a big department store sale. It's a chance to honor one of America's most important historical figures while also reflecting on the progress our nation has made — and the challenges we continue to face — with respect to civil rights and social justice.

While most Americans are well aware of the sacrifices Martin Luther King Jr. made and the incredible progress he spurred, few realize the extent to which he was inspired and guided by his Christian faith. Before he became a civil activist, he was a devoted minister. He never abandoned his faith, but rather, drew on it as a source of courage in challenging times. Below, we explore the role faith played in his efforts, as well as the role our faith can now play in living out his vision.

Martin Luther King Jr.: A Prominent Christian Voice in the Civil Rights Movement

Dive even briefly into Martin Luther King Jr.'s work as a civil activist, and it's impossible to deny the importance of his faith in both his personal life and his most famous accomplishments. Although he was briefly skeptical of several biblical concepts as a teen, he eventually realized that "many profound truths which one cannot escape" were evident in the Bible. He also discovered early on that his faith supplied "an inner urge to serve humanity."

Shortly after graduating from Morehouse College, King enrolled at the Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. He hoped to become a "rational minister" who would use his theological knowledge and wisdom as not only a "force for ideas," but also as the spark behind social protest.

A few years after he completed seminary, King was called to Montgomery's Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. He was elected to the Montgomery Improvement Association; at this time, he proclaimed, "We must keep God in the forefront. Let us be Christian in all our actions." The famed Montgomery Bus Boycott soon followed.

King felt that Jesus could serve as the ultimate inspiration behind a violence-free movement inspired purely by love. In referencing Jesus' use of the line "Love your enemies," King explained, "If you hate your enemies, you have no way to redeem and to transform your enemies. But if you love your enemies, you will discover that at the very root of love is the power of redemption."

While MLK clearly held and practiced a strong faith, he wasn't afraid to call out his fellow Christians when necessary. In fact, he was deeply concerned about the Christian community. He felt that it was his duty as a faithful man to make every effort to get the Church on the right path.

Sadly, far too many churches initially resisted MLK's call. For example, when he was invited to speak at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, many churches not only opposed this visit — they began to rescind financial support for the seminary.

Thankfully, attitudes have since changed, and many Christians now realize the wisdom in King's words. Today, he serves as a huge source of inspiration within the Church, where he is regarded as a chief example of what it means to act on one's faith in the face of challenge.

The Iconic 'I Have a Dream' Speech — And What it Represents Today

Although he built his reputation during the Montgomery boycott and while jailed in Birmingham, Martin Luther King Jr. is perhaps best known for a remarkable speech that included the iconic words, "I have a dream."

Delivered to hundreds of thousands of supporters during the 1963 March on Washington, the I Have a Dream speech served as the ultimate manifesto for both King and the movement he inspired. Although he prepared extensively for this remarkable speech, King actually diverged considerably from his initial plans, instead prompting renewed crowd enthusiasm with partially improvised descriptions of his overarching dream.

As always, Christianity was a major theme in King's speech. He described a world in which people of many different backgrounds could work together, attend school together, and yes, pray together. He mentioned "God's children" on multiple occasions and expressed his hope that "the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together." However, he also shared his fervent desire that people of many backgrounds could band together in pursuing his dream: "Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics will be able to join hands and sing."

While aspects of MLK's dream have indeed been realized since he delivered his iconic speech, other elements of his vision have yet to be fulfilled. Racial divides remain strong throughout American society; African Americans suffer high poverty and incarceration rates, as well as a wide education gap and often outright discrimination in a variety of settings. It is increasingly becoming clear that, while we've come a long way, we're still just getting started. That being said, we like to think that King's faith has allowed for, as he envisioned, the "[hewing] out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope."

At Geneva College, we are committed to carrying out Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision while drawing on his faith as a strong source of inspiration. We recognize his great accomplishments and the ongoing work in his fight for justice not only on MLK Day, but also throughout the year. We hope that you are as inspired and motivated by his wise words as we are — and we hope that, as with King, your faith and passion will grant you the courage to make a tangible difference in your community.

If you’d like to learn more about professions that enable you to serve wholeheartedly and faithfully in your life’s work or want to learn more about a biblically based, Christ-centered education at Geneva, we’d love to chat with you. For more information on how Geneva College can help you pursue your education goals, please phone us at 855-979-5563 or email web@geneva.edu.