What if We Didn’t Have Martin Luther King, Jr. Day?

By Joe Henriques, MBC Tysons Campus Pastor
Post was originally published by Joe Henriques on January 20, 2010 at http://mbctysonsblog.org.

Yesterday, I enjoyed extra time with my family because it was a holiday called Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. But, we never talked about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the impact that he made on life in America. I’m guessing that most of you reading this didn’t talk about him, either. The same would be true if it were President’s Day, or Memorial Day, or—most sadly for many Americans—Christmas.

As a society, we enjoy the shadows and often don’t give much thought to the substance that made it possible. In fact, celebrating shadows is so pleasurable and celebratory in itself, that soon the shadow becomes a tradition, a part of our culture. For example, the booms and showery displays of the 4th of July are like that. Friends and family gather for picnics, the town gathers for fireworks, a speech or two is broadcast by the President and other leaders. But, who talks about what happened in 1776 and what signing the Declaration of Independence cost the signers?

Back to yesterday’s holiday. What if we didn’t have Martin Luther King Jr. Day, what would we not have today?

Of the many thoughts that could be included here, I will mention just three: civility, equality and inclusiveness between the black and white races.

Civility. I’m a baby boomer who grew up remembering well the late 1950’s and 1960’s. As a kid, I didn’t understand the reason for the “white only” bathrooms and water fountains. The black athletes and I, who played on the same high school sports teams, joked together, practiced and played hard, without a thought about grown-up issues between blacks and whites. However, when a restaurant refused to serve our black teammates on a road trip, our whole team walked out. I remember watching Martin Luther King, Jr. on TV give speeches and lead marches, especially the famous Selma to Montgomery march. Because Martin Luther King, Jr. had the courage to confront cultural norms that were wrong, we now have a greater measure of civility, respect and peaceful interaction between blacks and whites. The biblical idea of “be at peace with all men as much as possible” is obeyed more now than before.

Equality. While the United States Declaration of Independence refers to all men as created equal, that is true only to the concept of being made in God’s image. Because all people are God’s creation, all people deserve equality in respect, dignity and the highest honor.

But being created equal in this way doesn’t mean that we are all equal to one another, for example, that we have all the same—or same degree of—natural talents/abilities or kinds of intelligence. There is another kind of equality that should be true regardless of race, culture or skill level: equality of opportunity or privileges common to all Americans. Dr. King focused on equality of respect and of opportunity. My parents were immigrants, but being half Portuguese (my father) and half Puerto Rican (my mother) never made me feel left out of opportunities or privileges. In all public places, I freely went wherever I wanted without being questioned as to why I was there. Schools and jobs had qualifications, but the same pre-requisites applied to all. It took the 1964 Civil Rights Act, subsequent policies, and the tumult of conflicting values that followed, to help all of us look beyond color to competencies. As God sends down rain upon all people for their benefit, so he has given gifts to all people to be fully utilized for the benefit of all. Equality of respect and opportunity enables that to happen.

Inclusiveness. The statement, “Sunday morning is the most segregated time in America,” has good sentiment behind it. It is a way of reasonably complaining that Jesus’ prayer that His people be one is not being played out by way of all cultures, in the same locality, worshipping the same Lord, together in the same building, at the same time, in the same way. While I respect the thought behind this form of soft chastisement, I personally reject it. Jesus came unto His own because He was part of a certain ethnic group called Jews. That people of the same culture like to be with each other isn’t the problem. Exclusivity is normal for every culture. It is a problem when one race or culture excludes another because of an attitude of cultural superiority. Then, exclusivity becomes a sin in God’s eyes. Dr. King broke down the barrier between blacks and whites in that it now feels more comfortable to go to a beach, a restaurant, a church, sit on a bus, do anything and go anywhere, sing with, clap together, and even debate views with, a person from another race. Societal inclusiveness is now normal. This is a picture of what Christ did. Inclusiveness is expected in God’s family because Jesus, accepting all of us as co-equals, broke down historical barriers of superiority, pride and animosity between Jews and Gentiles, men and women, slaves and freemen.

I know that these thoughts are barely an introduction to what should be a substantive conversation. Yet, it is right that we give tribute to a man who made such a significant impact on American society for good. To do so is to give honor to whom honor is due.

Let us thank the Lord for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his ideals, his courage and vision for a better America and the benefit that we all enjoy as a result.

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