That’s A Good Story, Dr. King

Since writing my last post (here), I’ve been struggling with the impulse to include some additional examples to make clear what “lens” has shaped my experience. I’m worried that, to some, God’s judgement could seem to bolster the propaganda of powerful politicians like Donald Trump (who promises to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants and build a “permanent border wall” between the US and Mexico). Will those same folks then try to reconcile their anti-immigrant nationalism with seeking God’s kingdom!?! Given this possibility, one that frustrates me to no end, I think we need an honest story about Jesus’ kingdom in order to give this subject of God’s judgement some actual grounding. 

So, I’ve been dialoguing with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. a great deal these last few months. He is a great example, in general, but maybe especially for us Christian evangelicals who often swim in the waters of privilege. Whereas a White Christian community may simply suppress a voice like Dr. King’s, others who embrace social justice often have serious doubts about (or have even given up on) Dr. King’s call for nonviolence. It’s naive, they might point out. It encourages submission in the face of ongoing destruction of black and brown bodies. It’s too focused on the world hereafter, not relevant to the struggles of folks who face real threats. While evangelicals seem to ignore Dr. King’s call to nonviolence, activists seem to deconstruct it. This is not new. Like I said before, speaking about God’s judgement is a loaded term and, now let us also acknowledge, so is a more modern concept like nonviolence. But these two perspectives are related, in my view. And should get a hearing, at least by followers of Jesus, in the spirit of beloved community.

I’ll let Dr. King speak for himself. He offers six characteristics about liberation and nonviolence:

  • [Nonviolent resistance] is active and courageous, not passive and cowardly;
  • seeks reconciliation, not victory over;
  • distinguishes injustice from persons behaving unjustly;
  • requires the willingness to suffer without retaliating;
  • rejects physical and spiritual violence (hate, ill-will, humiliation, etc.);
  • flows from and is strengthened by the conviction that the universe itself is on the side of justice and truth.

Dr. King penned this list in the midst of oppression and resistance some 50 years ago. But how can his voice help Christians, as well as justice-minded folks in general, flesh out a truly free response in the face of oppression today?

On one level, we’ll simply need more examples of people, like King, who are living (or have lived) in the stunning liberty of God’s kingdom here. It could be folks we know locally–maybe it needs to be. But really anybody who interacts with us (living or deceased) can be that storyteller we need to hear. It will sound like Good News proclaimed in a life.

I remember Dallas Willard recommending somewhere that Christians ought to read the stories of other disciples in order to enliven their imagination. Good stories have the effect of wiping away fear and creating dissonance, especially in a media-saturated age of propaganda. (I might also add, calling on Wendell Berry, that each person ought to know particular stories in order to fulfill Jesus’ command to love your enemy and neighbor.) Our daily rehearsal of bad news and commercials don’t compare at all with Jesus’ hope-filled presence (even in grief) and laughter. Beloved community can be written on our hearts, if we are willing. Yet we must begin with the most sacred story of all: “not my will, but yours be done.”