This year marks the 94th anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birth in Atlanta, GA. A son of Ebenezer Baptist Church, the church currently pastored by Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, the first African-American U.S. senator in Georgia, Dr. King’s life and legacy can be seen in his signature contribution to the human project — a reminder that whoever we are, whatever our skin color, whomever our parents are, and from wherever we’ve come — each of us is “Somebody” in God’s sight.
Beyond his accomplishments in the Civil Rights movement, and even beyond his consistently brilliant articulation and yearning for the church and society to realize what it means to be the “Beloved Community” — King helped us to understand more fully the essence of human dignity and worth, and the importance for these to be enacted among all of us if we will ever be all that God calls to be.
With many churches and society fraught today with multifarious dehumanizing factors — racism and xenophobia, poverty and economic inequity, and violence in many forms — one of Dr. King’s last and lasting questions remains with us nearly 55 years after his assassination on April 4, 1968, “Where do we go from here – chaos or community?” This decades-long question begs a response in 2023. And so, we might wonder what King would say to us if he were alive today. Here might be his letter to America in 2023.
Dearly Beloved —
I write this letter to you in the unconditional and unending love of Christ that binds you together, as it has all of us in all time and space. In my last book in 1967, I posed the question, “Where do we go from here – chaos or community?” I must say that this continues to be a critical question for America and the world today.
With ongoing racial division, social upheaval, economic divide, gender injustice, and political discord, I remind you that rooted in your humanity — your “Somebodyness” — is the fact that you are also a part of the world house. My words ring as true today as they did in 1967, “If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.” I ask each of you the question, “what are you willing to commit and sacrifice to bring about such peace on earth?”
Second, I observe that separation among you continues to breed hate in many places, and among too many people. This was clearly evident on January 6, 2021, with the insurrection at the United States Capitol in Washington, DC, and it is evident in ongoing violence inflicted on citizens across the United States and the world. I pray that my sentiments from decades ago will serve as a reminder to you today, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” I ask each of you, “what commitments and sacrifices are you willing to make to spread light and love in the world?” For, if light and love are to be spread in your communities and across the world, it will depend on each of you.
Finally, I remind you that the most powerful and lasting peace and love is always married to justice. My prayer for you is that the psalmist’s sentiment will become real for you that “Love and faithfulness will meet together, and justice and peace will kiss each other” (Psalm 85:10). Furthermore, I have for you, as I did during my life, the same prayer as the prophet Amos had for those of his day, that “justice would roll like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24). As I intimated in my first book in 1958, “True peace is not nearly the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.” I ask each of you, “what sacrifices and commitments are you willing to make to promote peace with justice in your communities and throughout the world?
There is much more I wish to write, but I will save those things for letters to come. My prayer for you is that in the days that are ahead — faith, hope, and love will abide. And I pray that you will see “hewn out of whatever mountains of despair are present among you, stones of hope.”
Your Brother Martin