Every January starts a new year and has a number of important dates. The week of January 18-25, for example, is the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. But for many millions of Americans, the central day of the month is the memorial of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the great voice for racial justice. Murdered in 1968, Dr. King elevated the conscience of a nation by both his life and his death. He returned hatred with love, ignorance with patience, threats with courage.
This year we honor Dr. King’s memory on January 21, and remembering him could hardly be more urgent. We live in an age of venomous identity politics and self-satisfied bullying, a time (to borrow from the poet Yeats) when “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are filled with passionate intensity.” Part of this can be blamed on an eccentric and often vulgar White House, but the problem is much deeper and wider than one man. And it now infects both of our political parties. We’ve lost a common language of public discourse. For King, who was himself a minister of the Gospel, that common language was the Christian moral sense implicit in the American experiment from its beginning and shared, at least in the 1960s, by nearly all Americans, believers and non-believers alike.
King - Beings - Right - Respect - Children
For King, human beings might disagree, even profoundly, but they never lost their right to be spoken of and treated with respect as children of God. The important thing is this: King was never a generic humanitarian. If he were, he could never have accomplished the things he did. He was first and finally a minister of Jesus Christ. His faith grounded his actions, the same faith that inspired and helped to shape the best of the American character. That’s...
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