What Would Martin Luther King Jr. Say in January 2021?

What Would Martin Luther King Jr. Say in January 2021? January 18, 2021

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
What would Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. say today? Artwork by Susan E. Brooks

If he were alive today, what would Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. say about all the craziness we’ve seen so far in 2021? Of course, I have no way of knowing for sure, but it might be interesting to think about based on what we know of history.

Historical Context: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I can always remember which year President John F. Kennedy was assassinated because it happened the year I was born, 1963. Within the next five years, both civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy had been assassinated. Surely those times were, in some ways, worse and more tumultuous than today.

I’d like to think we’ve made progress since then, on the road to “justice for all,” but this month I’m not so sure. Sadly, the divided, volatile days of the 1960s may not be much different from where we stand now as a country. In light of that thought, perhaps Martin Luther King Jr.’s words are as relevant today as ever.

Words to Inspire Us

In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, Martin Luther King said, “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.”

In 2020 and now again in 2021, evil has triumphed in many ways, but only temporarily. A focus for this coming year on “unarmed truth and unconditional love” will bring healing, if we allow it. We all want to be able to look back at these days and believe we were on the right side of history.

Practical Advice

So what can we do, practically? How do we navigate the mine field of political divisions in 2021 with truth and love? That depends upon who you are. We all have different talents and areas of influence, but perhaps I can suggest a filter we can use to make decisions. It’s known as the Golden Rule: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12 NIV). 

For example, a Christian friend of mine told me Black Lives Matter is an anti-Christian organization. Trying for a calm tone, I let her know members of my church led BLM protests in downtown Louisville, Ky., where they preached, prayed, and protested peacefully. The preaching and praying impressed her and perhaps challenged her to reconsider. I tried to treat her as I would like to be treated—with respect, truth and love.

Can we disagree and still be friends?

I said to my friend as we discussed the Black Lives Matter movement, “We can disagree on some things and still be friends.” She quickly agreed, and we still have a relationship though we don’t discuss BLM anymore.

Imperfect as it was, my conservative Christian school upbringing taught me people could disagree on politics and still have healthy relationships. I recall a scholarly debate held at my high school. One distinguished speaker argued in favor of just war, and the other argued for pacifism. It was friendly and respectful, and all these years later, I long to see this excellent example replicated: academic debate in search of truth, spoken in love and respect. Those were the days.

Living Arts and Science Center, Lexington
The Black Lives Matter Exhibition takes place at the Living Arts and Science Center in Lexington, Ky., now through March 2021.
Boy with Parachute
“Get Him a Parachute,” artwork by Susan E. Brooks, on display at the Black Lives Matter exhibition at The Living Arts and Science Center in Lexington, Ky. From the archives of Kentucky Refugee Ministries, used with permission.

Make the Most of Opportunities

How can I not support my brothers and sisters in Christ as they stand up for justice? I know black lives matter to Jesus, and I know systemic racism exists all around me. Therefore, when an opportunity came to enter my artwork into a Black Lives Matter exhibition, I entered. I know some of my Christian friends will disapprove, but they will be okay. I need to use my talents to support justice for the oppressed. If I were black, I would want others to recognize and support non-violent resistance to racial injustice—shoot, I should want that no matter the color of my skin. “Do to others as you would have them do to you” is the filter.

What Would Martin Luther King Jr. Say?

In January of 2021, perhaps he would say again, as he did in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, “There is a sort of poverty of the spirit which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance. The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.”

In many ways we are living in a miraculous world, but we don’t know how to treat one another as brothers and sisters. We, the people of God, need to repent and ask God to deliver us from “poverty of spirit” and help us find our way to unconditional love. Thank you, Martin Luther King Jr., for your profound words. We need them today.

What do you think he would say today? I would love the hear your comments!

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