As many celebrate both King and his mission this month, I am inclined to believe that the Civil Rights Movement with Martin Luther King, Jr. at the helm, emerged from a Judeo-Christian viewpoint, and that if the same were attempted today, it would meet opposition from every corner of political correctness. I drew this conclusion after reading King’s “Letter to My Dear Fellow Clergymen” (16 April 1963) a few years ago, a letter that reveals the religious track our nation has taken since. In fact, I hope this column reminds us of the distance from the foundations we have drifted that made the civil rights movement possible in the first place.
In fact, behind King’s effort was the idea that all men were created in God’s image, the Judeo-Christian God, that is. In other words, he didn’t arbitrarily compare Whites and African Americans, but grounded it in the then accepted Judeo-Christian worldview from which he fought. King linked people, universally, as human beings - the highest of compliments - rather than as black men or white men as modern civil rights leaders so often do.
Today the civil rights scene is much different. We have moved full circle; moving from equality as actual human beings with all the rights, privileges, and protections thereof, despite one’s color, to a re-segregation under a modern movement that demands recognition based upon color. Hence, the new movement is associated with ideas, groups, and personages that, unlike King, demonize the US, the white man, and the white man’s religion.
For those who aren't convinced, read how he defined his efforts as distinctly Biblical, a worldview confirmed with his denunciation of the increasing popularity of the Muslim effort. “The other force,” he noted, “is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various Black Nationalist groups…the largest and best-known being Elijah Muhammad’s Muslim movement.” These people, continued King, “Have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible ‘devil.’” This statement alone leads me to believe that King, if alive today and consistent, would reject both Black Liberation and Islamic based theologies as valid components of the movement.
Obviously, King repudiated the demonization of both the nation and the white man as other emerging movements did, Islam included, and it was his Judeo-Christian worldview that dictated. “If this philosophy had not emerged,” he continued, “by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood.” Here, King drew another link to the Christian undertones of his effort and distinguished it, again, from the Islamic tradition of violence. His fight for freedom, then, was driven by a worldview that was distinctly Christian. His belief in a transcendent, absolute and personal God, were foundational to his efforts. A Judeo-Christian worldview was so much a part of his thinking, that even his classification of “just” and “unjust” laws were determined by it.
Hence, Christianity paved the way for both the emancipation of slaves and the civil rights movement under King's leadership. Dinesh D’souza reminds us that slavery actually, “predated Christianity by centuries and even millennia. It was widely practiced in the ancient world, from China and India to Greece and Rome, and most cultures regarded it as an indispensable institution…” Slavery it seemed “needed no defenders because it had no critics…" "Christians," however, "were the first group in history to start an anti-slavery movement. It started in the late eighteenth century Britain, spread to other parts of Europe, and then gathered force in the United States…” (What’s So Great About Christianity, 70)
I am convinced that if King’s efforts emerged today, they would be met head-on with political pundits, hecklers, news agencies, and even religious leaders showing video snippets of his Christian rants. His letter would have already been leaked to the press and then subjugated to public scorn for his bigoted exclusion of other religions. I can hear the commentators now, “How dare he link our country’s origin and its laws to an objective and transcendent reality.” On the other hand, “Does he not realize that linking our law to religion, the Judeo-Christian one no less, violates the separation of church and state?”
Yes, contrary to many modern civil rights personalities, Christianity was, and is, the only true friend of both freedom and equality, and if either survives, it is the only foundation upon which they will do so.