This week I am honored to have professional novelist, Marlene Banks, as my guest blogger. Marlene's creative interests range from misrepresented or ignored history, love for God’s word, human psychology, and historical romance. She refers to herself as a "Kingdom Writer," which perfectly captures the goal and passion of Christian writers everywhere.
In this article, "The Christ in King," she explores the work, legacy, and life of Dr. King, a theologian and pastor, whose words and deeds are as relevant now as they were then. Enjoy! Lilly.
The Christ in King
Article by Marlene Banks
January 15, 1929 is the birth date of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. King was renowned for being a prominent pastor and articulate civil rights leader….and he was. He was also a man used mightily by God and that to me was the most important aspect of his life and the engine of his peace-loving persona. Not only was he a pastor and social activist but he was a husband, a father and an American citizen. Dr. King was a man, plain and simple, but a man so close to God that he was fashioned to be an instrument of change in a very public way.
There are many notable things about the life of Dr. King. For instance, it is not widely known he and his father were born Michael Luther King and changed their names to Martin Luther in honor of the illustrious German Protestant minister. Dr. King’s education took an impressive track earning him several degrees starting with a BA in Sociology from his grandfather and father’s alma mater, Morehouse College. Achievement and leadership abilities surfaced early in King’s life. He skipped grades more than once and entered Morehouse at fifteen years old. He was voted president of his predominantly white senior class at Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania where he earned his degree in Divinity. He then went on to get his Doctorate in Philosophy in Boston, Massachusetts where he met and married Coretta Scott.
One might say that King’s education prepared him for the difficult task of being a leader for African Americans–in raising their voice for social equality. Although I’m sure it helped hone his oratory skills and certainly gave him an intellectual edge, I do not attribute much of his formal education to his outstanding achievements. Without doubt his personal experiences as a Negro shaped his outlook on the state of American racism but I do not see that as the main impetus for his fervor to bring about social justice. I believe those accomplishments and the characteristics of Dr. King were preparation and tools useable for his divine destiny…a divine set-up, so to speak. I see him not only as a church shepherd or generational icon but an instrument of God to right social wrongs on a scale so impacting it globally uplifts the name of Christ. The spotlight for me is Dr. King’s service to God and his faith in Christ Jesus in living out his godly call.
I would never negate the dedicated work done by Dr. King and every civil right activist who risked so much to make changes in our society. Being an African American, I am extremely grateful for what came out of those struggles and I laude the exhibited courage of many, both black and white. Martin Luther King was a groundbreaking figure in peaceful resistance during the movement, but he did not do it alone. Yet he stood alone on many occasions during his unyielding stance. Today he is mostly celebrated, but during his life I remember how he was reviled as much as he was praised. When leading the equality charge, he suffered physical abuse from local law enforcement. He was spit on, water hosed and jailed… he was stabbed by a crazed woman. He endured ugly political accusations from government officials and criticism from some of the general population …again both the white and black population. He weathered the storms of unpopularity and showed nothing but love in the face of blatant hatred with a steadfast tenacity that I know he would not have without Christ in him.
The legacy of Dr. King is for all people and includes a string of inspiring speeches that rival anything ever heard in this United States of America. His ability to deeply touch people through his verbal expression was more than just preacher ease or public speaking acumen. When he spoke to the masses it was an inspired act of God. By that I mean that his words touched the hearts of men with divine penetration. Jesus spoke to the people and His words touched men in their souls and hearts unto repentance and salvation. I’m not equating Dr. King with the Jesus, of course, but the example the Lord gave us of how the Gospel seeps into a person’s soul beyond intellectual understanding or emotional stirring obviously took place in his landmark speeches. He stirred individuals enough to make them risk their lives for equality. He moved government to change its laws and he encouraged something in me, from childhood to the teen years, to hope for a better world where love abounds and we become a color-blind society. He inspired me to work for change, to do something if I wanted things to get better. Dr. King taught me, too, that it is usually through someone’s great sacrifice that great change occurs. Jesus is my primary example of that but people like Medgar Evers and MLK bring it home for me in my lifetime. His desire to bring about unity among the races and justice not just for African Americans but all oppressed people was from his spirit, not his intellect or social awareness. His love for mankind extended past the United States borders and he taught us to see beyond our individual, community or national circumstances to a broader good. That’s pure Christ-likeness.
Dr King’s legacy also consists of marching in Alabama and Washington spearheading actions that motivated all kinds of people to stand for an all-inclusive equality. He stood for fighting poverty, and spoke out against the Viet Nam war which made him scores of enemies across the board. He was a man of peace and a man of faith and love; all biblical principles taught by Christ. The secular world always emphasized King’s study of Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings and gives that as his training manifesto for peaceful protests. While King undoubtedly states Gandhi was instrumental in coloring his strategic approach to civil rights, I must challenge using that as the only or most compelling factor. His visit to India was a significant experience after the Montgomery Bus victory but before all that there was another guiding illustration in the Holy Scriptures. Jesus Christ was every bit the peaceful protestor of His day. He was after all The Prince of Peace! He protested against the religious system and was totally radical in His message and delivery for that time. I am convinced the learned theologian of the fifties and sixties first took his cues from a Jewish carpenter who was the Son of God and crucified at Calvary.
We see Dr. King as great social rebel—and again he was that but he was more pointedly a focused Christian—and I sometimes think the world overlooks that. The Christian community, as well. King was not perfect, just a man, flawed as we all are but with awesome gifts and a calling that would come with a big price tag. Everything he did was ordered by God and that is why his legacy is so widespread and enduring all these years later. He changed how we operate in this country and the world was watching. He made people think about brotherhood, justice, love and a quality of life for everyone on the planet not just African Americans. His faith was evident in all his speeches but especially in his last speech in Memphis; the references to the mountain top and Moses, another man chosen to lead by God. He stated he wanted only to so God’s will and I think he did. Sadly it was his farewell oration and with those moving words King demonstrated his clinging-to-God-mentality like a beacon to the world.
When I think of Dr. Martin Luther King, I definitely remember the social impact he had but I mostly see him as a follower of Christ Jesus and a chosen leader; not by the people but by God. He was a man of destiny, like Moses and he knew it. I believe Dr. King was a man who walked close with God, talked with God, was a vessel used of God and lost his life looking up into God’s face. Rest in holy peace, Dr. King.