This post comes a day late, but I trust it will still be helpful as we reflect on the ministry and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He is celebrated by Americans
as a civil rights leader, but we often forget that he was also a minister of the gospel. In fact, King told a Chicago congregation in 1967, “Before I was a civil rights leader, I was a preacher of the gospel. This was my first calling and it still remains my greatest commitment.” It is only within this larger calling that we can make sense of his civil rights work. For King, combating the injustice of segregation and Jim Crow was part of being a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. It was how he loved his neighbors–both black and white.
In my reading and research of King’s spiritual life, I discovered a remarkable story about his early days leading the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. It recounts King’s late night encounter with God over a cup of coffee. The event changed King’s soul and the course of American history. I incorporated the story into a sermon I preached late last year about Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount to turn the other cheek and love our enemies. (The story about King begins 19:30 into the sermon and weaves through the remainder of the message.)
I hope this message contributes to your understanding of the spiritual foundations of King’s civil rights efforts, as well as your understanding of our calling in Christ.