Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as relational theologian
Throughout many of his sermons Dr. Martin Luther King expounds on a variety of issues related to racial equality and social justice. He is explicit in his condemnation of social inequality and racial injustices that were happening during his lifetime . More specifically, he condemns these as not in line with either biblical teachings or true Christian values. King argues that only through truly representing the Christian faith can we finally go about the work of social justice to bring God’s kingdom on Earth. For him Christianity and the example of Christ can serve as a beacon of hope for all oppressed groups but more specifically for the experiences of racial discrimination by African Americans in the United States. Thus King’s notion of Christian hope in midst of evils that plague society comes from the way understand the connection between love and justice.
Specifically King wants to be clear in his ability identity the pain and suffering of the African American condition in 1960’s America. He writes: “Is there any one of us who has not faced the agony of blasted hopes and shattered dreams?” (Strength to Love, 87). The relevance of the hostile environment that many African Americans lived in cannot be understated. Try and try as they might, the tension between a world that is aspired to and reality continued to persist. Hope is thus found in God’s activity in the world that we live in. For King, God is not simply some primordial being who places the world into action. God is an active part of our daily lives. Evil does not exist in this world as attributed to God’s beingness. Rather evil results as of the action of human beings, of whom God has given free will to. Accordingly we are all made in the image of God and thus are actions are a reflection of the power that God has given to us. Thus even in the worst aspect of humanity King is still able to see the work God’s image of goodness. This sets out the divine imperative to both love and to forgive. We choose to love because we see the love God in everyone and we choose to forgive because not only did Christ first forgiven us but we recognize that Christ in everyone. I would take this sentiment further and extend it to the field of ethics. King’s notion of God and his ability to understand God in the world also sets out an ethical perspective.
Much of the problems that King addressed in the 1960’s are still relevant in our society today. Institutional racism, discrimination, socio-economic injustices, and a vast array of other issues can be addressed by applying King’s notion of God’s work in the universe to our ethical perspective. If God is both reflected in our humanness as well as gives us the power to create social change then these two concepts are not separate. Thus for Christian practitioners the very foundation of the Christian faith is based on seeing the image of God in everyone. Furthermore, through seeing this image of God in everyone requires and ethical responsibility to those people. That responsibility is act as God’s servants and image on Earth through showing love and being advocates of justice. Again love and justice are not two separate concepts. They are deeply connected. For, example one can show love and justice about the tragic events that have happened in Ferguson. There have been various commentators and analyst who question the need to protest the events of Ferguson. Often the expression is that true Christians show the love of Christ and are able to forgive the officer for his action. While this may well be true love must also include just in this context. We can recognize that God’s image in everyone but we must go beyond that moment to also help other recognize God’s image in everyone else. To truly do this we must be advocates for social and systemic changes that do not seek to recognize this image in everyone. Thus by participating in protest, advocating changes, and educating others about a social order that does not recognizes God’s image in everyone we become advocates of both Christian principles of love and justice simultaneously.
“The Christian faith makes it possible for us nobly to accept that which cannot be changed, to meet disappointments and sorrow with an inner poise, and to absorb the most intense pain without abandoning our sense of hope.” (Strength to Love, 97)