A staunch, traditional side to Martin Luther King?
He was convinced of the reality of moral absolutes

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Martin Luther King's traditional, moral side
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Martin was convinced of the reality of moral absolutes.

inspiration and uplift

Lady Lynn

from the ashes, we rise

Have we, in America, had a hero in our time -- that is, since World War II? I can think of only one with a serious claim, Martin Luther King. The theme was high, the occasion noble, the stage open to the world's eye, the courage clear and against odds. And martyrdom came to purge all dross away. King seems made for the folk consciousness, and the folk consciousness is the Valhalla of the true hero -- Robert Penn Warren, "A Dearth of Heroes," American Heritage, vol. 23 (October 1972), p. 99

Righteousness exalteth a nation; but sin is a reproach to any people.

Today's Monitor
Friday January 16, 1998 Edition

There was a man sent from God

whose name was Martin

See John 1:6 , kjv

Foremost, A Man Of the Cloth

Robert Marquand, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor


When Philip Wogaman traveled to dusty Selma, Ala., in 1962 to organize voters, he learned about more than civil rights and nonviolence. What the fresh-faced young minister saw in Martin Luther King Jr. and the black churches was a faith so strong that he realized he hadn't known Christianity until then.

The segregated town often convulsed with anger toward blacks and outsiders, and arrests were common. Black children were jailed, hosed down, then left to sit in the cold, sometimes all night.

"With so much hate, these people were absolutely committed to love," says Dr. Wogaman, who now leads Foundry Methodist Church in Washington, where the Clintons attend. "It wasn't love as a strategy or tactic. It was real. It was a love for the oppressor because they are the ones most harmed, because their God-given selfhood is destroyed when they act out of hate."

But these days King's religion, the heart and soul of his legacy, is largely ignored. King may have a national holiday and be revered as leading the charge to end racial injustice, but his biblical dimension is rarely mentioned.

  "Those of us who knew and worked with King knew him as a preacher," says the Rev. Dr. Joan Campbell, director of the National Council of Churches (NCC). "But as the years go by, people see him as the great civil rights leader and ignore the thing that most drove him - his faith."

College lectures, political speeches, and public-school textbooks barely mention King's Christian roots. A 1995 high school text quotes King on Vietnam, civil rights, and "compassion and love." But it says nothing of his calling, or of his upbringing as the son of the most important black minister in Atlanta, if not the South. Tellingly, King's collected sermons are out of print.

I heard the voice of Jesus
before everything, the Saviour
Prayer, the civil rights leader said, sustained him. Here, he speaks in Alabama in 1965.
King came from a long line of preachers, and there was an expectation that he would follow in his ancestors' Southern Baptist footsteps. But in every man's life there comes a moment of truth with God, and King had his.

It came late one night on Jan. 27, 1956, at the height of the bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala. King had received death threats, he was exhausted from meetings, and for the first time felt he may not be up to the task of organizing the community. He also feared for his young family. Praying for guidance, King got his answer. "It seemed at that moment," he later told an interviewer, "that I could hear an inner voice saying to me, 'Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo I will be with you....' I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on."

The link between Christian faith and the civil rights movement was inexorable. Without a genuine vision of Christian love, the movement would have early fallen apart, says Dr. Campbell, who sat in King's inner circle. King "profoundly felt a feeling of love for whites. Inside staff meetings, he would constantly tell blacks, 'You must work with our white brothers and sisters. They are God's children.' That kind of love is not easily understood. But he had it."

"In America, for whatever reason, a man can't be spiritually sensitive and great and at the same time be politically potent. We have a hard time conceiving of that," says James Dunn of the Baptist Joint Committee in Washington. "King showed us with his combination of a tough mind and a tender heart that is not true. But we forget it."

Even King's role as a minister is often underplayed. In Southern black culture, a minister's role is one of prestige and power. The pastor is political leader, spiritual guide, community organizer, and social monitor all rolled into one, says Taylor Branch, author of a book about America in the King years.

Not all who took part in the civil rights movement shared King's religious foundation. Once, young whites from San Francisco rolled into Selma and began to protest loudly and militantly, stirring the town precipitously, recalls Wogaman. Then, in a late-night prayer meeting, an older black man stood up and spoke with unearthly eloquence about liberation. Turning to the Californians, he said, to the best of Wogaman's memory:

"I don't know why you are here, but if you aren't here because of God, you don't belong."

"The deep religion in that single comment turned everything around, morally," Wogaman says. "The climate changed. The kids became good soldiers and saw a lot more in the methods of Martin Luther King."

thanks to Robert Marquand

The zeal of idealism, the lure of commitment was exciting, it was contagious. It caught fire among the young white kids -- among the compassionate, hungry for a flag to follow, eager for a cause to serve. Many white youth flocked to assist the Civil Rights movement out of deep compassion, but also deep passion. Some may have been a bit naive, about what they were getting into. Or what the allure was -- for themselves.

Love is of God (see God is Love)
But watch out for counterfeits [1 John 3:16]

There is no question that huge good came out of the black-white alliances forged under the leadership of the black Civil Rights Movement. A movement that preached integration, reconciliation, and full all-American brotherhood could not overly discourage the interracial romances that seemed to be the unseen hallmark of that movement. Nevertheless, it was discouraged. The older leadership was black, male, and strongly religious (prevailingly National Baptist). For whatever reasons, a kind of sexual double standard persisted. Perhaps some of the sexual prudery (and hypocrisy) is simply an American defect. Our religious "tragic flaw."

The youth of the Civil Rights movement were in direct rebellion against these mores. They may have grudgingly followed the movement leadership of Dr. King and the Pastors, but they were far less squeamish about discussion of sexuality. The Black Panther attitude seemed to be far more direct, open, and unabashed. If they had an image of bad boys, why not live up to it. If they were the supposed sexual beasts, then "Bring it on, Baby." Conversely, for the young white women who were attracted (to these "studly" bad boys, with their Black Panther defiance against the repressive aspects of our past) it was about far more than "just getting laid" by gorgeous Mandingos, there was also a genuine idealism.

See Deep In My Heart We are our brother's keeper

Now history sees those (theoretically) "rebellious" youth, both the white "groupies" and the black men -- the SNCC and Panthers and their allied groups -- not as law-breakers but as heroes, champions of a better world. Their "Black Rage" was necessary, just as the recurring refrain of separatism, the ongoing insistence on Black Pride -- and of course the "right" on access (long denied) to a political say, to economic inclusion, and (symbolically) access to white women.

libera me domine

"Tell them about your dream, Martin!!"
-- Mahalia Jackson "Queen of Gospel"

the Name above all names

If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.

Carter G. Woodson

American Moses   *   We Need Men   *   Republicans   *   Madiba's Rainbow *   Faith-based
"Martin Luther King is a sign that God has not forsaken the United States of America. God has sent him to us."
[Abraham Joshua Heschel]

MLK: with liberty and justice 'for all'

Was Dr. King half conservative?

Christopher Lasch admits King was a liberal in terms of his social gospel outlook, but claims that the great leader was in fact quite otherwise "in his insistence that black people had to take responsibility for their lives and in his praise of the petty bourgeois virtues: hard work, sobriety, self-improvement." Lasch goes on, "If the civil rights movement was a triumph for democracy, it was because King's leadership transformed a degraded people into active, self-respecting citizens, who had achieved a new dignity in the course of defending their constitutional rights."

Robert Ellsberg says King was gifted, savvy, astute.

"But he was more. He was a prophet, in the truest biblical sense, who proclaimed to his generation the justice and mercy of God, remaining true to his mission even to the laying down of his life." [p 152, Robert Ellsberg, All Saints]

Havelock Ellis:
When we have put aside those people who are congenitally non-religious and eternally excommunicate from the Mystery of the World, I find that Religion is natural to Man. People without religion are always dangerous. For none can know, and least of all themselves, what volcanic eruptions are being subconsciously prepared in their hearts, nor what terrible superstitions they may some day ferociously champion. It has been too often seen.

Paul Evdokimov:
The spiritual life springs forth in "the pastures of the heart," in its free spaces, as soon as these two mysterious beings, God and man, meet there. [July 15, Answers In the Heart, Hazelden]

Henry L. Stimson
Honor begets honor; trust begets trust; faith begets faith; and hope is the mainspring of life.

Traditional Motherhood

God is love


cruci dum spiro fido
libera me domine
cross icon thanx
to libchrist.com

Martin Luther King began one of his sermons proclaiming:
"Every time I look at the cross I am reminded of the greatness of God and the redemptive power of Jesus Christ. I am reminded of the beauty of sacrificial love and the majesty of unswerving devotion to truth. It causes me to say with John Bowring:
In the cross of Christ I glory,
Towering o'er the wrecks of time;
All the light of sacred story
Gathers round its head sublime.
[FROM A SERMON BY Martin Luther King, Jr .... Quoted in Strength to Love]

One Solitary Life
The Incomparable Christ

A beautiful song : The Lord Sent a Child

Taylor Branch is an American author and public speaker best known for his landmark narrative history of the civil rights era, America in the King Years. The trilogy's first book, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63, won the Pulitzer Prize and numerous other awards in 1989. Two successive volumes also gained critical and popular success: Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-65, and At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-1968. Decades later, all three books remain in demand. Some reviewers have compared the King-era trilogy, which required more than twenty-four years of intensive research, with epic histories such as Shelby Foote's The Civil War and Robert Caro's multi-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson.

Bob Shepherd
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Robert Warren Shepherd