Embracing MLK Day

Embracing MLK Day

January 16, 2016 by

Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Every year I’m a little bit amazed we have a national holiday for a pastor. And every year I’m a little bit amazed the church doesn’t embrace it more fully. This year I urge you to embrace Martin Luther King Jr. Day, even if it’s in your own small way.

Maybe churches are too exhausted after Christmas. We don’t have energy for one more holiday. But we miss how simple it could be.

Maybe we’ve deemed his dream a success. Segregation banished? Check. No more fire hoses on children? Check. Black president? Check. Mission accomplished. But we miss that—50 years later—Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour of the week.

Maybe we go the other way and declare it too controversial. Especially today. Just look at the response to InterVarsity’s support of Black Lives Matter. We’re not racist, but talking about it is too difficult. And we miss out on the transformative, healing power of the gospel we proclaim.

For whatever the reason, we don’t engage this day with the depth that we could.

1. It’s Not Hard

If we’re too tired from Christmas and overwhelmed, there are a lot of ways to embrace MLK without putting forth a Christmas-sized effort. We’ve got some ideas (including free social media graphics). It could be as simple as quoting MLK in your sermon or joining what others churches are doing.

My church shares a list of local MLK Day events and encourages people to join one. It’s not a lot, but it’s something.

2. Mission Accomplished

If we think Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream is accomplished, then we don’t understand his mission. If we think of King as a safe, acceptable hero, then we don’t understand his historical context. If we think the work of racial reconciliation is over, then we haven’t been paying attention.

King was not popular in his day. Many people questioned his tactics and motives. He was being investigated by the FBI. Though he was a pastor, he was a harsh critic of the church:

“If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.” -Martin Luther King Jr. (“Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” 1963)

Fifty years later it’s easy to overlook the injustice and hatred that raged in America over race, and think it has no lasting impact on us today.

Take some time on MLK Day to read up on the civil rights movement. Read “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” and explore other voices of the civil rights movement including Fannie Lou Hamer, John Lewis, Pauli Murray and Fred Shuttlesworth.

3. Difficult Conversations

Yes, these conversations are hard. (Especially if you have them on social media. Don’t have them on social media.) But we can’t shy away from something just because it’s difficult.

Join the conversation that’s happening today. Check out voices such as Austin Channing, Christena Cleveland, Mark DeYmaz, Derwin Gray, Trillia Newbell, Bruce Reyes-Chow and Bryan Stevenson to see how the church can be on the forefront of racial reconciliation today.

Moving Forward

Whatever we do, let’s not allow the cause for justice and healing to be limited to one day or minimized to one man. Let’s make MLK Day a starting point, a first step to bringing the gospel of Jesus to a conversation in definite need of grace.

And remember that it’s never too late. Maybe it is too late to sneak a King quote into your sermon—and it feels like paying lip service. But you can still read “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” (it’s right there: you don’t even have to hunt down a book) and start the process. You can still follow some of the voices above and start to explore this conversation. You can take the first tentative steps.

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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