Sixty years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famed “I Have A Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial as part of the March on Washington. Last Saturday, thousands of Americans gathered in our nation’s capital to commemorate the event.
The same day, a white gunman killed three Black people in a Dollar General store in Jacksonville, Florida, before shooting himself. The Jacksonville sheriff told a press conference, “This shooting was racially motivated, and he hated Black people.”
In other news, a Florida elementary school principal and teacher were placed on leave after Black students were singled out at an assembly. “This should not have happened,” stated the interim superintendent, who offered an apology to the students and their families.
The number of hate groups in the US has escalated from 457 in 1999 to an all-time high of 1,225; there are nearly as many race-based hate crimes against Blacks as against all other ethnicities combined.
Embracing the doctrine of “somebodiness”
Dr. Mika Edmondson is lead pastor of Koinonia Church in Nashville and author of a PhD dissertation on Dr. King. “Reclaiming MLK Jr’s ‘Dream’ 60 Years Later” is his brilliant new article for Christianity Today. In it, he calls Christians to “more substantially engage with King’s dream” by recognizing the painful history behind the speech, examining the practical issues addressed in it, and embracing the practical theology on which it was built.
According to Dr. Edmondson, “One of the most fundamental aspects of King’s theology was what he often called ‘somebodiness.’ This was a biblically rooted belief in the fundamental value and dignity of every human life.”
The pastor explains: “In the Jim Crow South, society sought to instill a sense of inferiority among Black Americans. Grown men were routinely called ‘boy,’ and Black people were forced to accept not only separate conditions but inferior ones.”
However, Dr. King was convinced by Scripture that “everybody was somebody.” Consequently, he embraced a dream that “my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” In so doing, Dr. Edmondson writes that Dr. King “was mainly referring to the doctrine of somebodiness. He longed for a day when America’s legacy of racial injustices no longer hindered access to equal opportunities.”
“God shows no partiality”
Dr. King’s “somebodiness” doctrine stands on the fact that every human is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). He “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26); accordingly, “God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11).
Nor must we: “If you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:9). Stated bluntly, racism is sin.
Here’s the problem: sinners cannot solve the problem of sin, which is why it persists. In the context of Dr. King’s speech, prejudice—an innate sense of superiority over another person or race—is an endemic result of the Fall and our “will to power” (Genesis 3:5).
We can and should legislate against it. We can and should take every practical means to minimize its existence and horrific effects. But we cannot eradicate it without the help of the God who made us.
“Speaking the truth in love”
Paul declared, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). As I know myself, I can say to you that I do not harbor a sense of superiority over people of another race or religion, socioeconomic condition, or gender.
However, as I searched my heart in writing this article, I realized that I am tempted to feel superior to those who stand against what I consider to be biblical truth in the culture wars over abortion and LGBTQ ideology.
I am convinced by Scripture that life begins at conception and abortion is therefore a great evil. And I am convinced by Scripture that God made two genders (Genesis 1:27) and intends sexual intimacy only for a man and a woman within marriage (Matthew 19:4–6). However, I have never had a daughter with an unplanned pregnancy. And I am not tempted by same-sex attraction and have no children or grandchildren who struggle with gender dysphoria or other LGBTQ issues.
These facts do not make the Bible any less true on abortion and sexual morality. But they should call me to defend that truth “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15) by “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) with a deep sense of our shared humanity.
I believe that pro-abortion and LGBTQ advocates are committing sins I am not committing. But I commit sins they likely do not.
God has a dream
As a result, I need the Holy Spirit to do three things for me I cannot do for myself.
One: Remind me daily of the abject level of my depravity. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), including me. Recognizing the sins I commit will empower me to refuse the sin of pride over those I do not.
Two: Birth in me God’s love for every person, whatever their sins and failings. “Love” is a “fruit” of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), a gift I must receive to give and must give to receive. I need to pray daily, “Help me to love everyone you love,” which is, of course, everyone.
Three: Show me how to express God’s love in transforming ways. The Lord has a kingdom assignment for me, a way to bridge the racial divides plaguing our nation as I “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6) for every American.
Like Dr. King, God has a dream for our nation: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).
May it be so with me.
And with you.