On April 3rd, 1968 Martin Luther King Jr. stood in front of the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee and prophetically anticipated the end of his people’s struggle. He said, “I have seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight… Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” The next day he was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel. That was fifty years ago, today.
When we remember Dr. King, we tend to focus on his exceptional, historical accomplishment. But I’m afraid that America has forgotten about the philosophy that informed his struggle.
I read a recent article from Fox News entitled “Today’s Atheists Are Bullies.” At the end of the article, the author says this: “modern-day atheists are—bullies; bullies who are doing their best to intimidate the rest of us into silence… there is only one way to deal with bullies, even in this politically correct world—and that is to stand up to them and fight them; to fight them in a bold, aggressive, and fearless way, and to fight them now.”
This sounds an awful lot like punching back twice as hard, which is a political strategy that appears to be more in vogue these days. Proponents of this view say, “The other side is so vicious and tyrannical. We have to be aggressive or the other side will win!” Let me say this clearly and unequivocally: If you punch back twice as hard, you’ve lost. It’s over. Your perspective, your beliefs, your message will have no lasting effect.
Our goal, as people guided by biblical convictions in America (who are being mocked and maligned and slandered on a regular basis) is to persuade. It is to convince.
Dr. King knew this all too well. He knew the way of Christ and he incorporated that to change the law, at a time when the nation was vicious and hostile to African Americans. But he didn’t do it by punching back twice as hard. He argued for a nonviolent philosophy that struggled “to secure moral ends through moral means.” In his speech “The American Dream” he said:
“[W]e can stand before our violent, most violent opponents and say in substance, we will match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. And so throw us in jail and we will still love you. Burn our homes and threaten our children, and as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hours and beat us and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half dead and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will so appeal to your heart and your conscience that we will win you in the process. And our victory will be a double victory.”
This is why America needs Dr. King now more than ever. He knew something that we’ve largely forgotten. It’s not about winning the argument, it’s about winning the person. It’s not about answering the question, it’s about answering the questioner. As Christ followers in this country, we must never lose sight of that. No matter what happens, or what anyone says, or how bad it gets in this country, or how much of our rights are infringed, we must always appeal to a person’s heart and conscience in order to win them.
If we can do that, we will win.