MLK holiday is not celebrated as a holiday by Americans I know. With the exception of state employees, most people work, and those who don’t typically treat it like an extra Saturday – a day of rest, leisure, play, and, perhaps, catching up on house cleaning. I’ve wondered every January for the past few years how I can meaningfully celebrate this holiday. Since I am not and probably never will be an oppressed ethnic minority, I do not identify with Dr. King’s victories as my victories (though I appreciate their historical significance). Thus, it is hard to make this holiday personal. I am understanding more and more, though, that I can identify with his Christian faith, and learn from and be inspired by his social activism as being motivated and justified by his Christian beliefs.
Dr. King models for us in many ways how a believer should relate to the government he is commanded by God to submit to. He saw gross injustices directed towards black U.S. citizens by their own government. Believing that all men are made in the image of God and possess inalienable rights, not conferred to them by the state and therefore not contingent on the state, he led a movement that opposed the government and sought political change using peaceful means of protest. His faith in the unchanging God of justice and mercy gave him courage to confront powerful forces, even when his life was threatened, and at the same time gave him love with which to overcome evil. He famously told his supporters, after his house had been bombed, “Don’t get panicky… I want you to love our enemies. Be good to them. This is what we must live by. We must meet hate with love.” This he did, and eventually his righteous cause prevailed, though costing him his life.
Dr. King opposed the government and the social norms of race relations that supported it on the basis of the truth – truth about the nature of man and of justice that transcended the laws and ways of men. Such an understanding of the world, as revealed in Scripture, should compel us to promote truth and fight injustice wherever we see it today. I think this is how I will celebrate MLK Jr. holiday from now on: using my extra day off to seek out and plan for ways I can do likewise.
I recommend this Chuck Colson commentary on Dr. King’s example of Christian activism: