Atlanta is a large city with all of the benefits and detriments accompanying the honor. Yet part of the history of this major American metropolitan area includes a significant piece of the US civil rights movement.
I visited the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Park in Atlanta which focuses on the life and contribution of the man as well as his wife, Coretta Scott King. Since Atlanta is the birthplace of this civil rights giant, the park, the graves, the birthplace, as well as the baptismal church of MLK are preserved and glorified. With good reason.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was, if nothing else, a man of extraordinary courage. He incarnated aspects of the gospel of Christ in ways that few others have been able to do. He heard (not to mention lived) the stories of those who were the intended recipients of God’s good news and put that good news into action. He spoke bravely of freedom, of justice, of God’s love for all people—white and black. And he lifted up a movement where that justice could be glimpsed by those who sought to see it.
What moved me the most was his absolute commitment to non-violence. Inspired by Gandhi and Jesus, he demanded peace in the face of violence and passivity in the face of aggression. Some have tried to paint his non-violent approach as weak, but in reality it is anything but. There are consequences to facing violence with non-violence. Those can include beatings, imprisonment, or even death. Yet MLK demanded that any who would follow him in demanding justice for themselves and others be willing to face these possibilities.
Love conquers all. And love cannot occupy the same space as violence. Martin Luther King, Jr. heard this from Jesus. I hear it from both of them.
The gospel cannot exist outside of a context. In the American 1960s the context revealed injustice in our laws, our voting, and our very attitudes. The gospel of Christ, put forth and lived by Martin Luther King, Jr., called out the evil of the injustice of racism. Today, the gospel of Christ calls out these same, as well as other, evils and wrongdoings. Those who are disciples of Christ today are part of the context of this present time and are, therefore, called to reveal the gospel of justice, love, and equality for all people in whatever way that looks like today.