Today is Martin Luther King Day.
Today we remember one of the greatest figures in American (perhaps world) history.
At least once a day I see a Facebook status or hear a comment from someone complaining about Obama or the media persecuting Christians.
“They’re taking our guns!”
“They’re taking our freedom of speech!”
“They won’t let us pray in schools!”
“EVOLUTION!” “DEMOCRATS!” “SOCIALISM!”
Let’s be clear: we are not being persecuted.
The African American population—for most of American history—faced persecution.
How did Martin Luther King, Jr. respond?
He did exactly what Jesus did and taught exactly what Jesus taught.
Jesus lived under one of the most oppressive governments in world history. The Roman Government had conquered the known world and created a policy called Pax Romana, literally, “Roman Peace.” The great irony is that, in order to create “peace,” the Romans had military outposts spread throughout the empire to decimate any resistance. They would hold mass crucifixions, displaying the bodies along the roadside, to deter any potential rebellions.
Peace through fear.
Not 40 years after Jesus’ death, the Jews became so frustrated by the oppression that they revolted against Rome and were utterly destroyed.
It was under such militaristic oppression that Jesus gave his famous “Sermon on the Mount” in which he told the people:
“…I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
It was under such militaristic oppression that Jesus suffered a horrific death without lifting a finger.
It was under similar oppression—from his own people—that the apostle Paul received multiple beatings, imprisonments, and fierce opposition. At one point he was beaten so badly his attackers thought he was dead.
Jesus and Paul didn’t teach us to cry “Persecution!” when our “rights” have been trampled on. They taught us to endure it. To receive the suffering and then to forgive our persecutors so that they can see the love of God.
They taught us that violence never brings peace. Only love can do that.
They taught us to be willing to suffer death before lifting a finger against our enemies.
Martin Luther King, Jr. did more than fight for racial equality. He fought for human dignity—even the dignity of his enemies. He showed us the way of Christ. He showed us how to be human.
One day, Christians in America may actually experience real persecution. When that day comes, let’s follow the example of Martin Luther King, Jr.–a man who followed Jesus.
Here is an excerpt of MLK’s teaching on nonviolence, which can be found here:
SIX PRINCIPLES OF NONVIOLENCE
Fundamental tenets of Dr. King’s philosophy of nonviolence described in his first book, Stride Toward Freedom. The six principles include:
- Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people. It is a positive force confronting the forces of injustice, and utilizes the righteous indignation and the spiritual, emotional and intellectual capabilities of people as the vital force for change and reconciliation.
- The Beloved Community is the framework for the future. The nonviolent concept is an overall effort to achieve a reconciled world by raising the level of relationships among people to a height where justice prevails and persons attain their full human potential.
- Attack forces of evil, not persons doing evil. The nonviolent approach helps one analyze the fundamental conditions, policies and practices of the conflict rather than reacting to one’s opponents or their personalities.
- Accept suffering without retaliation for the sake of the cause to achieve the goal. Self-chosen suffering is redemptive and helps the movement grow in a spiritual as well as a humanitarian dimension. The moral authority of voluntary suffering for a goal communicates the concern to one’s own friends and community as well as to the opponent.
- Avoid internal violence of the spirit as well as external physical violence. The nonviolent attitude permeates all aspects of the campaign. It provides mirror type reflection of the reality of the condition to one’s opponent and the community at large. Specific activities must be designed to help maintain a high level of spirit and morale during a nonviolent campaign.
- The universe is on the side of justice. Truth is universal and human society and each human being is oriented to the just sense of order of the universe. The fundamental values in all of the world’s great religious include the concept that the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice. For the nonviolent practitioner, nonviolence introduces a new moral context in which nonviolence is both the means and the end.