By Natasha Nedrick
What’s the most meaningful way churches can celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr?
Watch the “I Have a Dream speech”? Serve a meal at a soup kitchen? Every year as we approach the King holiday, I struggle as I watch pastors and politicians alike honor King with their lips, when their hearts seem far from him.
For too often, Christians in America are satisfied promoting the idea of racial equality with absolutely no plan or agenda to change the system that was intentionally created to oppress and disenfranchise Black bodies.
Although Martin Luther King, Jr., is most often referred to as a civil rights leader, it’s worth remembering that King was first and foremost a minister of the Gospel. King stood to proclaim that the good news of Jesus Christ was not only a message of hope, but also one of justice. King said, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”
However, King knew the call of social justice and civil rights wasn’t a fight he could bear on his own. He called together a Christian coalition and helped to form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to coordinate non-violent protests, boycotts and sit-ins that were persistent enough to lead to systematic change.
And how to do we honor the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., now?
Cheap talk; symbolic actions; rare movement toward systematic change.
We sanitize and minimize the message and work of King and call it commemoration.
Part of the greatness of Martin Luther King Jr. legacy was his ability to call Christians and like-minded individuals and organizations together, not for a day, but until changed was realized.
King was the catalyst of a movement, not one-off events.
People were willing to sacrifice their reputations and their bodies, often risking imprisonment, physical beatings and the possibility of death for the chance of a just world for their children.
On this day, as we celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., I pray that we will strengthen our resolve and our faith. I hope these words of King become your realized prayer, “Use me, God. Show me how to take who I am, who I want to be, and what I can do, and use it for a purpose greater than myself.”
Instead of simply commemorating King’s birthday, let’s replicate and amplify his actions.
The movement is far from over. Politicians still seek to dismantle voting rights. Police brutality is commonplace while police accountability is rare. Payday lenders and title loans actively target Bblack and brown communities. And the inequities in lending and housing practices are too numerous to count.
King said, “Whenever injustice is around he tell it. Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, and saith, ‘When God speaks who can but prophesy?’ Again, with Amos, ‘Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.’”
What’s the most meaningful way churches can celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.? Perhaps it’s to develop a “whenever injustice” theology—a theology that requires the church to be aware of the social ills that surround them; a theology that necessitates civic engagement; a theology that addresses both spiritual and physical needs; a theology that requires loving your neighbor; a theology that values sacrifice over comfortability; and a theology that requires daily persistence to fight the evils of this world.
Rev. Natasha Nedrick serves as Minister of Discipleship at Central Baptist Church in St. Louis, Mo.