Dr. King did not speak in terms of tolerance. His ideal was love.
"Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that" (Strength to Love, p. 51).
Yet, in current discussions of race relations the word love is seldom mentioned. Dr. King insisted love was the dominant or critical value by which we could overcome racial strife.
The love he spoke of was a biblical love, one that is unconditional, unselfish and seeks the absolute good of another party.
That kind of love is a tough love, one that confronts wrong and injustice with the truth -- absolute truth as decreed by an all-powerful God.
That kind of love is one that reaches out in compassion and a quest for understanding even to one's enemy.
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 (and Dr. King affirmed) that 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.
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.
Hear Dr. King as he speaks to the man or woman who contends that God is unnecessary or irrelevant to our modern lives:
"At times we may feel that we do not need God, but on the day when the storms of disappointment rage, the winds of disaster blow, and the tidal waves of grief beat against our lives, if we do not have a deep and patient faith, our emotional lives will be ripped to shreds.
There is so much frustration in the world because we have relied on gods rather than God. We have genuflected before the god of science only to find that it has given us the atomic bomb, producing fears and anxieties that science can never mitigate.
We have worshiped the god of pleasure only to discover that thrills play out and sensations are short-lived.
We have bowed before the god of money only to learn that there are such things as love and friendship that money cannot buy and that in a world of possible depressions, stock market crashes, and bad business investments, money is a rather uncertain deity.
These transitory gods are not able to save us or bring happiness to the human heart. Only God is able. It is faith in Him that we must rediscover. With this faith we can transform bleak and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of joy and bring new light into the dark caverns of pessimism" (Strength to Love, p. 51).
Are you discouraged about the prospect of us never overcoming the racial divisiveness that permeates this nation? Or are you frustrated by your inability to genuinely love others who are different from you?
In moments like these, we in the household of faith must remember who God is and what is true so we can be guided through these turbulent waters. We are called by God to be salt and light in such very dark times.
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