MLK, the Church and the Civil Rights Movement

On MLK Day, the church should celebrate the American Civil Rights movement because it was birthed out of the church, and it exemplifies our core beliefs of peace and justice. While Dr. Martin Luther King had heroic qualities, his legacy is most powerful when one realizes that he personifies million of people in America who were part of a cultural change. A new generation decided that it was time to change, and the preaching of Dr. King and other pastors was a huge part of engineering that change. The Civil Rights movement was based off non-violent protest, and Scripture helped form this conviction. An example of this wide-spread participation was when 24 ministers in Montgomery, Alabama, were arrested in 1956 during a non-violent protest. What would pastors be willing to be arrested for today?

gty_1960_reverend_martin_luther_king_ss_thg_130114_sshMartin Luther King was groomed by his father to be this movement’s spokesman from an early age. He was well-prepared through mentoring and education. He graduated from Morehouse College (1948), Crozer Theological Seminary (Chester, Pennsylvania, 1951) and earned a Ph.D in Systematic Theology from Boston University (1955). Despite his formal education, nothing could prepare a man for the enormous pressure he was under from all segments of society, which included the scrutiny of those participating in the Civil Rights movement.

Do you realize King led the Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955) at age 25?  King was only age 34 when he delivered the I Have a Dream speech (1963) in Washington, DC.

There is no shortage of amazing quotes from MLK regarding humanity, but I have been impacted by a less spectacular quote that exposes King’s conclusion on the nature of sin. In relationship to his training in liberal theology, I find his statement on sin to be remarkably insightful:

It was mainly the liberal doctrine of man that I began to question. The more I observed the tragedies of history and man’s shameful inclination to choose the low road, the more I came to see the depths and strength of sin . . . The more I thought about human nature the more I saw how our tragic inclination for sin causes us to use our minds to rationalize our actions.

King realized that human beings need a savior, and only Jesus can save us from our sinfulness.


1 King, Martin Luther, and James Melvin Washington. I Have a Dream : Writings and Speeches That Changed the World. 1st ed. [San Francisco]: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992, 11 .

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