It has been more than five decades since the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King Jr.'s “I Have a Dream” speech was delivered. Yet none of us can say we have fully lived up to Dr. King Jr.'s vision of a land where each person would be judged by the content of their character, rather than the color of their skin.
Tensions continue, and weekly we hear of yet another incident somewhere in our country where race is presented as a precipitating factor.
Things are different today than they were 52 years ago. Yet the question remains, why has it been so difficult for us to embrace and consistently live out Dr. King's dream?
Martin Luther King's Dream Begins With God
As we consider giving new life to “The Dream,” we have to acknowledge that, in Dr. King's speaking and writing, “The Dream” begins with God.
For without God, there is no absolute transcendent truth on which to base a call to justice. Nor is there any source from which to draw the strength to love about which he spoke.
A certain degree of skepticism about this perspective is understandable. Too often, those who claim to be Christians have failed to live in keeping with the clear teachings of the Christian Scriptures.
These failures have frequently been in matters of race. It is clear from the Bible the church ought to provide spiritual and moral leadership in society.
However, as we observe the history of the American church, many parts of it have been passive, or even regressive, in matters of race. Even in the current era, the church speaks to the issues of the day with a fragmented voice.
A case in point is the tendency for African-American clergy to align with Democratic candidates, while many white pastors align with Republicans. Yet, Dr. King implored people not to dismiss Christianity on the basis of these observations. Dr. King lived in an era when the leadership of the church in addressing racism was even less credible than it is today.
Biblical Christianity vs. Cultural Christianity
Dr. King clearly understood that too often there was a difference between the Christianity taught in the Bible and the varieties of Christianity that he observed around him.
His life was devoted to challenging Americans to live out a more consistent obedience to the moral absolutes of the Bible. His repeated plea was for men and women to enter into the kind of personal relationship with God that transcended that which could be seen and that which was being experienced.
“Evil can be cast out, not by man alone nor by a dictatorial God who invades our lives, but when we open the door and invite God through Christ to enter. 'Behold, I stand at the door, and knock; if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me.
'God is too courteous to break open the door, but when we open it in faith believing, a divine and human confrontation will transform our sin-ruined lives into radiant personalities,” Dr. King said.
A relationship with God gives us the power to overcome whatever sin we may be struggling with, including the sin of racism. Racism stands not only as a barrier between people, but as an offense between us and God.
“Man is a sinner in need of God's forgiving grace. This is not deadening pessimism; it is Christian realism,” King said.
Jesus is the Great Equalizer of the Races
Our need for Jesus is truly the great equalizer of the races. We all are sinners in need of a Savior. We all stand before God, not on the basis of one race's superiority over another, morally, culturally, financially, politically, or in any other way.
All the races of the world, all the cultures of the world, need the same Savior. His name is Jesus.
What Martin Luther King described as our need for a “divine and human confrontation” is offered at God's initiative. It requires that we place our faith in what Jesus did as our own personal payment for sin, and that we invite Him to enter our lives “when we open the door and invite God through Christ to enter.”
King's Words Still Ring True Today
We can give new life to “The Dream,” following the path of Dr. King. Our path may not lead to martyrdom by an assassin's bullet as it did for Martin Luther King, but it does lead to dying to our selfish ways and self-sufficiency.
Such a faith is not a weak-kneed, escapist religious exercise, but a courageous pursuit of that which is ultimately good, right and true.
“In his magnanimous love, God freely offers to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Our humble and openhearted acceptance is faith. So by faith we are saved. Man filled with God and God operating through man bring unbelievable changes in our individual and social lives,” Dr. King said.
“The Dream” starts with God as revealed through His Son, Jesus Christ. Through a relationship with Him, we can be agents of healing in a world that is sick with racial and ethnic conflict.