January 21, 2019
It would have been a bitterly cold day to visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial, but plenty did. Bundled up on a deceptively sunny day, they took advantage of the park's re-opening, a rare gift in the midst of the longest government shutdown. One by one, they stopped to look up at the civil rights leader, who stands now as he did then: unflinching in the winds.
A lot has changed since Rev. King's life was cut short a half century ago. The man who would have turned 90 last week would notice a lot of his fingerprints on America's social progress. But he would also be deeply dismayed to see the number of people who've turned their backs on his greatest motivation: a deep and abiding faith in God. In all of the politically-correct retrospectives, we've lost perspective on how important religion was to the story of Dr. King and the civil rights movement.
When visitors run their fingers along the etched words of the MLK memorial, finding God is difficult. Not because Dr. King didn't invoke Him -- quite the contrary. It's because too many in our government refused to acknowledge that faith was his driving force. These are the people, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, points out, who'd be quite happy to keep religion, morality, the Bible, and its teachings private. Imagine, Dolan said, if Martin Luther King were one of them. If he thought that "what he prayed on Sunday morning was not to be implemented on Monday morning. For him, politics was shot through with religious values and for him there was no apologizing for the fact that the Bible, that Jesus, that the Old Testament prophets, they were definitive in culture, in life, in our nation..."
It was that power of truth that finally prevailed against the cultural forces of his day. To him, religion wasn't a barrier to progress -- it was a bridge. It didn't divide and destroy, it served and connected. Fifty-one years later, the reason our society has a hard time addressing moral questions like race is because too many people try to disconnect faith from the conversation. How else can we truly understand and respect the dignity of every person? "Love," Rev. King said, "is one of the pinnacle parts of the Christian faith. There is another side called justice, and justice is really love in calculation."
The leaders of the civil rights movement weren't transformational in spite of their faith -- they were transformational because of it. "I say [all of this]," Rev. King insisted, "as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen."
America's war against religious liberty would have saddened Dr. King. Like us, he knew that without it, he wouldn't have had the freedom -- or the platform -- to speak out against segregation. In his day as in ours, there is one path to reconciliation in this country: the church. "There is so much frustration in the world because we have relied on gods rather than God... Christianity affirms that at the heart of reality is a Heart, a loving Father who works through history for the salvation of His children. Man cannot save himself, for man is not the measure of all things and humanity is not God. Bound by the chains of his own sin and finiteness, man needs a Savior."
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.