I have just read once again the text of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have A Dream” speech that he gave on August 28th, 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The goose bumps are still standing. The speech really is a masterpiece and because it reads so much like a sermon, I am drawn even more into its structure and rhetoric. I found interesting one aspect of the “dream” section of his speech that I will address below, an aspect that provides an unshakable foundation for the dream of racial equality and the reason why we are witnesses to the advancements continuing to be made in that regard. But first, take a look at this portion of King’s speech. It is often overlooked and is, I think, why MLK was truly one of the greatest leaders in history.
“But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”
As MLK begins to wind down his speech and describes the different scenarios that make up his dream, it is worthwhile to notice the initial foundation that the remaining dream part of the speech is based on. His first dream section says, “this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” One word in MLK’s first dream sequence legitimizes and solidifies the remainder of his speech and provides the context for what had come before: “Created.” When we say we are a “created” people, we are also saying that there must exist a Creator. The reason MLK’s vision for the future is the right vision and not simply left up to societal opinion or persuasion is because the equality we read about in this country’s documents of freedom are written on the correct assumption that we all share certain rights given to us by a Creator. That is the foundation for King’s argument. If King, or this country, does not at the end of the day point to our equality because of a Creator, then it is simply another opinion that can be weighed amongst a host of others. But none of us think that. We all know that King was right. But why do we know? Because it is just “the right thing to do?” Because it is “just obvious?” Well, yes, but only because God has instilled in each and every person the basic differences between right and wrong. As fallen creatures, we can suppress those and go our own way, but all of us know equality is the real deal. Because God has created us equal, we are equal indeed. And yes, we all have “unalienable rights” because of that equality.
In order to be consistent, anyone who is appreciative of King’s speech but not appreciative of the foundation on which his speech is made, that we all have a Creator, will have to acknowledge that his is just one of many, many opinions that could have won the day, and that his was no more correct than the Alabama racist who would have spit in the face of MLK if given the chance. We are talking about right and wrong here. And right and wrong must have a standard to distinguish between the two. Will anyone reading this blog dare say that in 30 years racism will be a legitimate, “right” mode of human conduct? I seriously doubt anyone would say that. But without the cause of a Creator, you will be forced to. If human sensibilities and societal agreement is what makes up the standard to distinguish between right and wrong, then we are left without the ability to say in 30 years racism will not be “right.” Human thinking changes. Society changes. God does not.
How ironic that many, if not most, of this nation’s most prized and precious moments in history are dependent on the basic understanding of God (and a Christian understanding of it at that) and that a basic understanding of God is what is most under attack in this country. If we want to scrap God from the picture, fine. But we must scrap the Declaration of Independence as well because it was penned on the assumption that all people are “endowed by their Creator” with certain rights. Get rid of the Creator and this country no longer makes sense. Get rid of the Creator and all we have is human opinion, none of which holds any greater weight than another. Get rid of the Creator and all we have is a society that can never be wrong until society says it is wrong. Get rid of the Creator and all we have is nothing worthwhile.
So here is to the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. This country is thankful that you were “fearfully and wonderfully made.”