by Tony Peterson
I wasn't aware of Rev. Martin Luther King until he was assassinated on April 4, 1968. I was nine years old. I could tell from the behavior of the adults around me that something horrible had happened. When I asked Dad about it, he said "Dr. King was like the president of the Negro people."
That explanation satisfied my nine-year-old mind. But when I got older, I realized that Dad had highly oversimplified Martin Luther King's life and message. As the King name has permeated American culture, many have heard or read the "I Have a Dream" speech from 1963's March on Washington. Myths have circulated about King, raising him to icon-like status. Other myths have sought to humanize him and have succeeded only in demonizing him.
Like many Americans and many Christians, I have wanted to know more about the man. In high school I wrote a research paper on him. In graduate school, 25 years after Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech, I took a class on his life and writings. Another 25 years have passed since my graduate school class, and I am sure as ever that he was neither angel nor demon. But I believe he has a message for 21st century Christians.
Dr. Martin Luther King's core message was the Gospel proclamation of personal salvation and social restoration. Not only is that message the central core of the man's life and words, it is also the message that most resonates for us today.
King spoke that message explicitly and candidly in a 1963 sermon titled, "How Should a Christian View Communism?" He chose this sermon topic probably because one of the most persistent myths about Dr. King is that he was a Marxist, or a Communist sympathizer. King wanted to state outright his reasons for opposing Communism. In the process he laid out a blueprint for Christian thinking and living that remains helpful today.
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