Providential Accident?

Is it perhaps a providential accident that today is Martin Luther King Jr Day, the man who decades ago dreamed of the day that will happen tomorrow? My favorite collection of Martin Luther Kings wriitngs is A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.
. Here is his famous “I Have a Dream” speech… and this speech by Martin raises a question for me: Which of the themes or lines in this speech do you think will characterize, or hope will characterize, Obama’s Presidency?



MLKing.jpgFive score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we
stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great
beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of
withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their
captivity.



But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One
hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of
segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a
lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred
years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds
himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful
condition.

In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check.
When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and
the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every
American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as
white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of
Happiness.” It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar
as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation,
America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked
“insufficient funds.”

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We
refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of
this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand
the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the
fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take
the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of
democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the
sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of
racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a
reality for all of God’s children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the
moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until
there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an
end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now
be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual.
And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his
citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our
nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the
warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our
rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our
thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must
forever conduct
our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative
protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic
heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community
must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as
evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up
with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound
to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march
ahead.

We cannot turn back.

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights,
“When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is
the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as
long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of
the highways and the hotels of the cities. We
cannot be satisfied as long as the negro’s basic mobility is from a
smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as
our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their
dignity by signs stating: “For Whites Only.”
We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in
Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.
No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like
waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great
trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And
some of you
have come from areas where your quest — quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of
persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of
creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.
Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia,
go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing
that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of
despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of
today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American
dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out
the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are
created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of
former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the
table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state
sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be
transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have 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.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day,
down in Alabama, with its
vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of
“interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black
girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and
brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every
hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and
the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh
shall see it together

This is our hope, and
this is the faith that I go back to the South
with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of
hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation
into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work
together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for
freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day
– this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to
sing with new meaning:

My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I
sing.

Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,

From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if
America is to be a great nation, this must become true.


And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of
Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring,
when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city,
we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and
white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and
sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

               
Free at last! Free at last!

               
Thank
God Almighty, we are free at last!

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • k

    “But we refuse to believe that the bank [of justice] is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults [of opportunity] of this nation.”
    I fear all politicians think this (minus what is in the brackets). But what I pray comes to past is that all men and women live in freedom.

  • Michelle Van Loon

    The dream is fulfilled in such a powerful symbolic way, and yet, re-reading the text of this history-making speech, it remains a dream. Dr. King’s call not to wallow in the valley of despair is the message President Obama will have to walk out each day of the next four years. Hope was the core of the message of his candidacy, and continuing to inspire hope from tomorrow onward will continue to help our society move toward making Dr. King’s dream a reality for all of us.

  • Your Name

    I think one thing that Obama gets, that I hope more come to realize through this recession and through his leadership and through the Holy Spirit, that our destiny as a nation can’t be separated from the destiny of our “least” members. That we must attempt to make progress together, not pursue progress for me and mine alone.

  • http://whateverthings.org Carl

    My hope is that this line: “The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny.” will be reflected not simply in areas of racial reconciliation but in all areas; that interest groups and lobbies will begin to see as in this together, and that our destiny is tied together. Obama seems to be making some strides in helping people see this and drawing different parties together.
    By the way Scot, isn’t “providential accident” an oxymoron?

  • Scot McKnight

    Carl,
    Swiped from the title of Geza Vermes’ autobiography.

  • Rick

    Bill Bennett asked this question on this radio show this morning: Is the Obama presidency the “promised land”?
    It is interesting that in the speech, Dr. King does not mention positions of power as part of the dream. Rather, he seeks “freedom and justice.”

  • Michael

    As a preacher, I only wish I could turn phrases that eloquently.
    You ask which phrase or theme . . . With so many divisions in the nation (immigration, growing economic divisions, political ideology divisions, racial, etc.) it seems that a most timely outcome of the next 4 or 8 years would be the nation coming back to some belief of treating all people with equality. And then ACTING on that belief.

  • Rick

    Michael #7-
    “With so many divisions in the nation (immigration, growing economic divisions, political ideology divisions, racial, etc.) it seems that a most timely outcome of the next 4 or 8 years would be the nation coming back to some belief of treating all people with equality. And then ACTING on that belief.”
    What would the new administration do to make that take place?

  • Diane

    I hope Obama will make reference to repairing the social contract between the government and the people.


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