It has been more than five decades since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech (listen to it now) at the “March on Washington.” Yet, none of us can say we have fully lived up to Dr. King's vision.
We aren’t living in a land where all people are judged solely “by the content of their character” rather than the color of their skin as he dreamed one day would be true.
Tensions continue. We hear weekly about incidents from around our nation, where race is presented as a precipitating factor.
Though things are different today, the question remains:
Why has it been so difficult for us to fully live out Dr. King's dream?
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.
Skepticism about this perspective is understandable. The church ought to provide spiritual and moral leadership in society. But often, Christians fail to live the way that the Christian Scriptures teach.
Many parts of the American church have been divided, passive or even regressive in matters of race. Yet, Dr. King implored people not to dismiss Christianity on the basis of these observations and divisions.
Without God, there is no absolute truth on which to base a call to justice; nor is there, as Dr. King pointed out, any source from which to draw the strength to love.
Dr. King clearly understood that too often there was a difference between the Christianity taught in the Bible and the varieties of Christianity he saw being lived out.
He challenged Americans to live more consistently with the teachings of the Bible. He challenged us to enter into a personal relationship with God that looks different from the hypocrisy he saw every day.
In his book “A Gift of Love: Sermons from Strength to Love and Other Preachings” (page 140), Dr. King wrote, “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 eat with him, and he with Me.’” (Revelation 3:20, King James Version).
Dr. King goes on to say, “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.”
Racism stands not only as a barrier between people but as an offense between us and God.
A relationship with God gives us the power to overcome whatever sin we may be struggling with, including the sin of racism.
Our need for Jesus is truly the great equalizer of the races. In his book “Strength to Love” (page 51), Dr. King wrote:
“Man is a sinner in need of God's forgiving grace. This is not deadening pessimism; it is Christian realism.”
No matter your complexion, politics, finances or past, we are all sinners. We all — every race of the world, every culture of the world — need the same Savior to save us from our sins. His name is Jesus.
Dr. King, in “A Gift of Love” (page 140), calls this saving relationship with God through Jesus the “divine and human confrontation.” He goes on to say:
“It requires placing our faith in what Jesus Christ did as our own personal payment for sin. We invite God to enter our lives ‘when we open the door and invite [Him] through Christ to enter.’”
We can give new life to “The Dream” by following the path of Dr. King. Our path may not lead to martyrdom by an assassin's bullet, as it did for him, but it must lead to dying to our selfish ways, fear and pride, which are at the root of racism.
Such a faith is not a weak-kneed, escapist religious exercise but a courageous pursuit of that which is ultimately good, right and true.
“The Dream” starts with God as revealed through His Son, Jesus Christ. Through an authentic relationship with Him, we can be agents of healing in a world that is sick with the sin of racism and ethnic prejudice.
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