Each year in the United States on the third Monday of January, we celebrate the life and message of Martin Luther King Jr. While everyone claims the mantle of King, not every message is the same.  California Congressional Candidate C. Mason Weaver makes this same observation in Chapter 6 of his book, “It’s OK to Leave the Plantation

 I wonder, have we lost sight of his dream? Are we confusing the many messages and goals of the civil rights movement with King’s dream? Was the dream of Dr. King the same dream as Malcolm X, Huey Newton or H. Rap Brown? Can today’s youth properly remember Dr. King’s legacy by the words of Angela Brown or Donald De Freeze “Cynque?”

In a world of conflicting messages, I wanted to contrast two distinct views on race in America.

Over the past 20 years, I have been a part of 2 predominantly black congregations. The first was a small 100 member Pennsylvania church in the early ’90s. The second one I enjoyed was a 5,000 member Tulsa church in the mid ’90s. As a white minority, I never once felt out of place with my black brothers and sisters (mostly because I never saw them as black and me as white; I just saw us as people). I really enjoyed the jumpin’ worship, the energetic preaching, and the congregational hanky-wavin’ participation. Needless to say, everyone was nice and the potlucks were awesome!

Based on news reports over the past few years, it is possible a shift has taken place within the black church from when I was involved. The words of Dr. Jeremiah Wright have come to the foreground and illustrate one path many people have chosen.  So what is the substance of his message on race relations? Listen for yourself.

Rev. Wright certainly does represent one path that we can take. I don’t know how dominant his approach really is, but I do know that my own experience in the black church was much different. Some folks defend Wright’s words by saying, “he is not alone. There are many black preachers saying exactly the same thing.” Wright seems to be much closer to Malcom X in his worldview.

“We don’t go for segregation. We go for separation. Separation is when you have your own. You control your own economy; you control your own politics; you control your own society; you control your own everything. You have yours and you control yours; we have ours and we control ours.”

– Malcom X, January 23rd, 1963.

There is another path forward. There is another voice with a very different message of faith, race relations, and forgiveness.  King once said,

“We are out to defeat injustice and not white persons who may be unjust.”

– Martin Luther King Jr., Stride Toward Freedom 1964

On this holiday, it is good to remind ourselves of what Dr. King’s Dream sought to acheive. Listen to him speak and compare his demeanor and message to Rev. Wright.

As outlined in the Wall Street Journal some years back, there is a great chasm in not only the tone, but the substance of these two messages. In my opinion, one of the most significant differences is the demonstration of love. In the midst of great racial persecution, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. modeled a non-violent love for his enemies. He did not just use the right words, he demonstrated love in his actions.

“Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. It is a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.”
– Martin Luther King Jr., Why Can’t We Wait 1964

We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory. . . .

Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. That’s why Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” Because 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.

– Martin Luther King, Jr., “Loving Your Enemies”, 1957, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery Alabama

Decide today!  Which path will you follow?

Granted, loving ones enemies is not an easy task. Most of us cannot understand the unique Black-American experience, but we certainly can understand the difficulty of trying to love someone who would do us harm.

Can we really love a Nazi regime that killed Jews, Gypsies, Poles, Russians, the handicapped…?

Can we really love the Islamic terrorists who kill babies, women, children, men, and anyone else who does not bow down to worship Allah?

Is it possible to love those who use religion as an excuse for bigotry, violence and racial hatred?

The message of Jesus Christ—reflected in the teachings and life of Martin Luther King—must be embraced by blacks, whites, republicans, democrats, and all peoples. There is no excuse for hatred of any kind!  Which path will you take?

“But I tell you, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! Then you will become children of your Father in heaven. For he makes his sun shine on good and bad people alike, and he sends rain to the righteous and the unrighteous alike. What reward do you get if you love only those who love you? Why, even tax-collectors do that! And if you are friendly only to your friends, are you doing anything out of the ordinary? Even the Goyim do that! Therefore, be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

– Jesus, 2000 years ago.

Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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