By Halle Miller
In a time where Christianity and people who claim to be Christian are the source of much hatred and divisiveness, America unites to celebrate someone who put Jesus at the center of the advocacy that he was ultimately killed for: Martin Luther King Jr. I know many shudder at the mention of social justice, as it is an affront to a privilege they don’t even want to acknowledge, or conjures images of their political enemies for reasons only explained by the one (maybe two) news outlets they consume. Furthermore, many of those who fear or even condemn social justice are Christian. How contradictory this is to the indisputable truth that the leader of one of the most recent and arguably one of the most significant social justice movements in the history of modern western civilization did so in the name of his Christianity, pointing consistently to Jesus.
In King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop Speech,” he reveals the core motivation for his role in the civil rights movement is simply to do God’s will. The will of God can seem like this elusive thing, difficult to discern. While I am unsure if and how the will of God can tell you where to go to graduate school, who to marry or even what to eat for lunch, the example and instruction in Scripture are clear about who we are to care for. In that same speech, King puts it best: “Let us develop a dangerous kind of unselfishness.” It is hard to dispute that God has a desire for justice and a desire to see his people take care of the marginalized or disenfranchised.
From the example of King, I find it abundantly clear that not only should Christians be at the forefront of social justice movements, but it may even be an affront to the will of God when we are not. Think of the proverbial good Samaritan and consider who in this life and this society is laying stranded on the side of the road. Social justice is being a good Samaritan on a societal or institutional level, using what you have or even risking your Western comfort in order to help a neighbor. You need not wonder which side of the picket line you would have stood on during the 1960s. Do you take steps to help people who are disenfranchised today? How do you talk about populations who do not have the same rights and privileges that you do when you are behind closed doors?
King listened to the calling of Christians to take lead in social justice movements and did so with grace and humility. I can think of no better evangelism than to pour into your own community in a way that is radical and needed. As King eloquently puts it at the end of his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop Speech,” it is worth it to stay on the path to the promised land:
“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind … I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”– MLK Jr.