Martin Luther King, Jr. was an inspiring Christian pastor who advanced the founding principles of America. He lived in turbulent times, and he made a difference. We have long known that it is through adversity that the strength of our character emerges. When individuals of strong character dedicate their lives to improving the lives of millions of others, greatness can occur. Greatness emerged in Dr. King. He challenged his fellow citizens to fulfill the promise of the American creed. His efforts advanced the moral strength of our nation. The legacy of his words and life continue to provide clarity on the importance of character. For this, on the national holiday honoring his birth, we are right to say thank you to Dr. King.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
100 Years Apart, Yet Together
In 1963, Dr. King gave his most famous speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. He began that speech with these words: “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation.”
The choice of those words in the opening of Dr. King’s speech, and where they were spoken, were significant and deliberate. Dr. King sought to advance the promise and ideals of America. He drew upon our nation’s founding principles. He honored and directly called upon the legacy of President Abraham Lincoln in the pursuit of life, liberty, equality under the law, and justice. King evoked Lincoln’s phrasing from the opening of the Gettysburg Address, which began:
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
Like Lincoln, Dr. King died in the effort to strengthen the character of a nation. Their shared martyrdom is significant. Yet, it was their strength of character in how they lived, and what they accomplished, that made them great. For this, may all Americans be truly grateful.
God, America’s Founding, and the Law
In truly being grateful we should honor the legacy of Dr. King in how we live. As a nation, honoring his legacy requires an embrace of America’s core principles relative to life, liberty, equality under the law, and justice. We must embrace a core understanding Dr. King offered in his stirring Letter from Birmingham Jail written in April of 1963. There he instructed:
“A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.”
In these words the Reverend King continues to provide us clarity. The governmental laws established here on Earth must adhere to God’s law. We are reminded that there is a higher Sovereign authority. Nearer the conclusion of his letter, he made clear that the civil rights efforts he supported were a continuation of America’s founding principles. Of those who peacefully resisted the inherent injustice of laws establishing segregation he wrote:
“… they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.”
Dr. King embraced the foundations on which America was built. Our own adherence to these principles is in keeping with Dr. King’s work and his legacy.
Content of Our Character
Honoring and embracing Dr. King’s legacy requires a rejection of racial divisions. As a man of deeply-held religious beliefs, Dr. King would once again urge us to reject those who seek to pit Americans against one another on the basis of race, ethnicity, and gender.
Within his historic “I Have a Dream Speech,” among his key visions for the future was a clear statement on what was important. His dream saw past physical distinctions. He emphasized the importance of character.
The importance of the God-honoring character of good people cannot be overstated. People of good character are essential for communities to thrive. People of good character are essential to ensuring that our laws are just. They are essential to pushing back against both lawlessness and injustice. They are needed if we seek to have public safety.
Founding Principles and Faith
As a nation we must be ever vigilant to prevent the rise of new tyrants and oppressors. On the night before his assassination in April 1968, Dr. King gave his last formal speech. He admonished our nation to stay true to its founding principles.
Dr. King told those assembled that he had “been to the mountaintop,” in a stirring faith-based message. While he expressed that he “may not get there” with them, he reassured them that as a people, they would reach the promised land. He closed with a clear statement that he did not fear any man; “mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
Amen, Dr. King. Thank you for your efforts and your strong message of moral character in support of God’s will. Your message and legacy live on.
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