Eileen, Joshua, and I are attending “MLK50: Gospel Reflections from the Mountaintop” this week. The event is sponsored by the Gospel Coalition and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, for whom I am serving on the Leadership Council this year. Wednesday night at 6:01 we were at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, exactly fifty years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., at the site which is now enshrined as a national monument to civil rights. The bells were tolled as complete silence fell over the large, multiethnic crowd.
To say that this has been a “heavy” week would be the understatement of the day. To take up the subject of racial reconciliation and social justice is never an easy task, but it’s especially daunting when our culture seems so divided along racial and political lines. Anger is everywhere. The church does not speak with a unified voice when it comes to the issues of the day. In fact, evangelical Christians in America are perhaps more divided now than ever. Many older Christ followers align themselves with conservative candidates and causes, while many younger evangelicals expressly repudiate the alliances of their parents’ generation. It’s a perfect recipe for misunderstanding, labeling, and conflict in the church.
I’m going to be honest with you: some things I’ve heard this week have perturbed me, while others have thrilled my heart. Many of our social ills are, in my humble opinion, complex and multi-dimensional by nature. I now have to sit before the Lord with my Bible open, as well as my heart, if I am to process and apply Christ’s gospel in a way that is honoring to Him. When it comes to any prejudice or racism in my own heart or behavior, I want to see it for what it is, and repent.
It just so happens that I am reading through Nehemiah in my daily devotions. Last night I was struck by Nehemiah’s responsibility to do his part to repair damaged race relations in his own day. The wall and the city could not be repaired until the underlying moral foundations were steadied and secured. Repentance preceded rebuilding. I see similar themes in Acts in the early church. As a pastor, I want to do this well. First Baptist Paducah, in many ways, must set the peacemaking standard for our city. No other congregation has the history, the location, the influence, and the resources to exert the kingdom impact with which God has afforded us. Let’s do it right! Our community is watching and waiting.
Dr. King was not a perfect man. He never pretended to be. But he did some things exceptionally well. He taught people the difference between just and unjust laws. By so doing, he taught us that there really is a moral law given by God. That might not seem like a big deal to you, but I would submit that what is most responsible for our contemporary cultural confusion and chaos is the absence of an accepted moral authority.
Most of all, Martin Luther King, Jr. knew the power of love. He knew that grace, not hate, was the way of Christ. It still is. Even in the face of the worst manifestations of evil, love is still the answer. Despite our best efforts, we will never reach complete agreement in regard to identifying political problems and formulating political solutions. And sometimes I’m surprised by the impatience and anger which can erupt in me when I perceive that others don’t interpret “politics” or “worldview” or “justice” as my categories demand. So, for Dr. King’s legacy of longsuffering love, I give God thanks and praise.
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb …”
It’s not just a dream. It’s as good as done.