Off The Record: King's message should be observed 365 days a year

January 19, 2004|HERB BROCK

Today hundreds of people will be gathering for a special commemoration and celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday at First Baptist Church, Second and Walnut streets, in Danville. If people knew just how the speeches cause the soul to soar and the music causes the heart to race, thousands would be there.

Whether there are 10 or 10,000 at this annual tribute to King and his dream of human justice, those who do show up at least get a glimpse of the great man and a sample of his great message. It would be nice if the man and his message could be observed 365 days a year instead of just one. But King probably would remind us there are only two days set aside on the secular calendar in honor of his dream-maker, Christmas and Easter, so one for him is quite an honor.

But on this one day devoted to King, we can still do more than attend ceremonies and services in his honor, as wonderful as most of them, including Danville's, may be. Perhaps we would could read over many of the comments he made in his incredibly short life and try to apply them to our own daily lives or to current events that affect our lives. As inspiring as his "I have a dream speech" was, he said many more things filled with insight and vision.


I checked out several of King's comments in books I have at home and over the Internet and selected just four that are both specific to his cause of civil rights but universal in their application to the way we lead our lives, from simply trying to get a long with co-workers and neighbors to trying to champion causes and crusades.

In at least reading these four comments and at least trying to apply them, maybe we can be King for a day:

* "I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land."

With the reality of fanatics bowing before the altar of the terrorism of Osama bin Laden and Baathist robots genuflecting to the altar of the tyranny of Saddam Hussein and the resolve of the majority of Americans and their president to conquer both, King's comment might seem like the wishful thinking of an incurable pacifist.

But as "anti-American" and "appeasing" as many people would regard a person making this remark today, people still need to make it and demonstrate for it to temper the temptation to make war, rather than peace, the only solution to global problems, lest those favoring war as the only solution become the very terrorists and tyrants they're trying to conquer.

* "We cannot be truly Christian people so long as we flout the central teachings of Jesus: brotherly love and the Golden Rule."

In post-September 11, 2001, America, many political and religious leaders have rightly tried to invoke the meaning of this message to make sure that in our zeal to protect our nation against terrorism we don't promote hatred of the millions of people from the Middle East who call this country their home. They have tried to educate us on the fact that the vast majority of them are loyal Americans and the vast majority of the Muslims among them adhere to a different Koran than the one cited by the fanatics leading the terrorism movement.

But in their effort to douse the flame of hatred burning in the hearts of some Christians toward Middle Easterners and Muslims, some of these leaders have gone too far and disparaged Christianity. In their attempt to criticize Christians who beat up, verbally and even physically, Middle Easterners and Muslims, they have been beating up on Christians. Although it's done far too often in many other situations in this country, from personal relationships to work relationships, too many of us feel the only way to elevate somebody is by pushing down somebody else.

As King might well point out himself, brotherly love should go both ways and brothers should be equal.

* "A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law of the law of God. An unjust law is a code out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in terms of St. Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law."

King's comment is as relevant today as it was nearly four decades ago, maybe more so. While the remark had to do specifically with civil rights and segregation, it also could apply to debates over abortion, separation of church and state, gay marriage and numerous other issues.

It's impossible to say which side King would come down on when applying his own remark to today's issues. But I think it's certain that it should be written down on a card and kept in a billfold or purse as one of the best characterizations of the Judeo-Christian prism through which the vast majority of Americans look at such issues.

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