The Dream, the Struggle, and Direct Action

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

(Luke 4:18-19 ESV)

“The urban slums need not be destroyed by flames; earnest people of good will can decree their end nonviolently- as atrocious relics of a persisting unjust past.”

(From “Next Stop: The North” as featured in “A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr., edited by James M. Washington)

As we celebrate the national holiday of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., there is a great opportunity for the body of Christ to allow his words to lead us to a greater Missional and Kingdom advancing future. Dr. King spoke on many occasions about the Beloved Community. When describing this vision for America and the world he pointed to the Kingdom of God. In a 1957 message entitled, “The Challenge of a New Age, Dr. King spoke of the Beloved Community in the context of the agape love of God the Father as shown thru the Son, Jesus Christ and the reconciliation, redemption, and equality that is possible in this love. From this we can draw from Dr. King that there is no Beloved Community apart from the love of God found in Christ and thru the Kingdom He spoke of. The Church misses much if we reduce Dr. King’s dream just to one line in one famous speech. To gain a deeper understanding of his dream we must gain a deeper understanding of the Kingdom of God.

Dr. King spent the duration of his public ministry speaking to and participating in the struggle against injustice. I recently read one of Dr. King’s writings from 1965 entitled, “Next Stop: The North.” He wrote this piece for the Saturday Review magazine right after the riots in the Watts community of Los Angeles, California. This is an important piece for me because World Impact, the ministry I now serve began during this time right in the midst of the Watts Riots. World Impact began in the midst of racial division, violent reaction, and the struggles for justice. Dr. King used this writing to speak to three areas that are still very helpful as riots and protests in the midst of racial divisions have once again come to the forefront in the United States of America. His words are also meaningful as we grieve the recent terrorist attacks in France and Nigeria.

First, Dr. King spoke to the realities of systemic injustices facing African Americans and urban, under-resourced communities. He acknowledged police brutality and misconduct issues, urban crime, broken families, and racial disparities in the areas of housing, education, and employment. He also provided a critique of violence as a solution to systemic injustices. The Church today must be willing to acknowledge both individual and systemic sin issues. Our preaching and teaching must include a prophetic and loving edge. Denying systemic injustices, deny not only the prophetic commentary of Dr. King, but also deny some of the words, engaging, and works of Christ in the context of the sinful systems he faced visible and invisible.

Second, Dr. King spoke to the need for a struggle against injustice. He spoke of nonviolent direct action as an alternative to violent rioting and looting. He made the case that violence thru riots in the North would not bring the lasting change that nonviolent direct action was bringing in the South. But it wasn’t just being nonviolent that was bringing about social change and transformation, it was the vision and strategies at the foundation of the nonviolent direct action. The Church must remain in the struggle for transformation, justice, reconciliation, and Kingdom advancement. This is no time to be on the sidelines. This is no time for the Church to find its primary identity in programs and weekend worship experiences. Those initiatives are fine, but the core identity of the Church ought to be an external, transforming witness in a world of pain, injustice, and brokenness. We need a Church willing to engage in struggle.

Finally, Dr. King spoke of victory. He really believed that the vision and strategy at the foundation of nonviolent direct action was winning and would continue to win. Even when the soldiers of nonviolence were being beaten and attacked by fire hoses and dogs, Dr. King believed that victory was taking place. If he could speak now, I wonder if in some radical way he would see his death as a, victory? I do know though of a Savior in Christ whose death and resurrection actually did bring on victory. The work of advancing the Kingdom He proclaimed is victorious work. The Church must be about victorious work in under-resourced communities and among marginalized people.

The continual engagement with the writings and sermons of Dr. King provides rich material for fueling a Missional, Kingdom advancing, and reconciling Church if it’s willing to stay in the struggle for justice.


Taken from Efrem Smith's blog: