Thursday, January 5, 2012

MLK, Jr., Christianity, and Christ

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Bible
Growing up in a fundamentalist Baptist church, the son of a strong fiery preacher, Martin Luther King, Jr. began to to doubt orthodox Christianity at a young age.  At Morehouse College, one of his professors pulled him back toward orthodoxy, though without shackling him with fundamentalism (Stephen Oates, Sound the Trumpet 19).  I do not know exactly what that looked like in his belief system, but I do know he believed in God and Christ, and in Christ as the Savior of men.  That's one reason why he rejected Communism, for it was "cold atheism."  King's biographer, Stephen Oates, writes that King believed man "could never save himself because man was not the measure of all things.  He needed God.  He needed a Savior.  Communism was egregiously wrong in denying man's spiritual necessities" (27).

When the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama was a month old, King marvelled at what was happening, at how the participation in the boycott was practically 100%.  Rosa Parks was the precipitating factor in the protest, and 50,000 blacks readily got involved.  "Yet," writes Oates, "there was a 'divine dimension' at work here, too."  King believed God was at work in selecting Montgomery for the struggle for freedom, and he believed God had chosen him as an instrument to do His will.  He could not otherwise explain the effect of his oratory to inspire (73).  Bayard Rustin also believed MLK divinely chosen, but he pointed out to him the negative side of being such an instrument: "I have the feeling the Lord has laid his hands on you, and that is a dangerous, dangerous thing" (95).

As the boycott progressed, King was receiving many obscene and threatening calls (as many as 25 a day).  A spirit of fear crept over him, fear for his life and for the lives of his wife and daughter.  He began looking for a way out without hurting the cause.  Receiving a call late on Jan. 27, 1956, King got up and paced down to the kitchen where he put on some coffee.  Wracked with fear and indecision, he "put his head in his hands and bowed over the table.  'Oh, Lord,' he prayed aloud, 'I'm down here trying to do what is right.  But, Lord, I must confess that I'm weak now.  I'm afraid.  The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter.  I am at the end of my powers.  I have nothing left.  I can't face it alone."  As he prayed, he felt Jesus speaking to him, telling him, "Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness.  Stand up for justice.  Stand up for truth.  And, lo, I will be with you, even unto the end of the world."  It was a transformative moment for him.  The Lord meant him to fight on.  "And for the first time God was profoundly real and personal to him."  (88-89)

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