On Wednesday, August 28, 1963, one of the largest and arguably most significant political and human rights gatherings in the history of the United States took place.
Over 250,000 people descended onto our nation’s capital that day for what is called The March on Washington (for Jobs and Freedom), organized primarily by leading representatives of several pivotal organizations to the civil rights movement.
With such legendary artists and activists like Joan Baez, Roy Wilkins, Bob Dylan, Mahalia Jackson, John Lewis, and Marian Anderson all on the program calling for an end to racial injustice, no voice was heard louder and words more memorable than that of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the keynote speaker for the event.
What historians regard as the most important speech of the 20thcentury, King, who then was just 34 years old, masterfully fused the words of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bible, and Samuel Francis Smith’s “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” in order to share his now famous dream of a nation free of racism.
While it is nearly impossible to share in one post all of the major progress we have made as a nation as well as our setbacks since that historic day, the following are three ways that the local church can still help to make Dr. King’s dream a reality, using some of the actual words from his memorable speech.
1) …rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation…
While the Civil Rights Act of 1964 helped to outlaw discrimination at schools, restaurants, and other public facilities on the basis of race, and hundreds of corporations have made considerable strides to diversify their workforce, if King were alive today, he may be shocked that within many of our churches, Sunday morning (at eleven o’clock) is still “the most segregated hour of Christian America.”
As author Scott Williams states in his award-winning book, Church Diversity, “when it comes to embracing a culture of diversity, too many churches miss the mark for the simple reason they have a homogenous platform.” Whenever ministry leaders set out to build and grow a multi-ethnic congregation without first building or growing a multi-ethnic staff, the results can often be dismal.
Our recruiting and hiring efforts must always follow the inclusive example of heaven and not simply of our own personal worldview and cultural similarities here on earth, which Revelation 7:9 gives us a sneak peak into. When people do not see any physical reflection of themselves in those that lead them, the valley that Dr. King spoke of in his speech will only grow deeper and wider.
2) …transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood…
Perhaps one of the reasons the pews and platforms of our churches remain segregated is that within our own communities and circles of relationships, segregation still exists as well. We can never lose sight of the fact that those we do life with daily will have a close tie with those we will do life with weekly, especially on Sundays.
Bryan Loritts, Pastor of Abundant Life Christian Fellowship and author of Right Color, Wrong Culture, states that “if ethnic ignorance is bred in isolation, then growth happens through community.” While it is absolutely natural and normal for people of the same ethnicity to want to predominately associate with one another, when we make no effort at all to open ourselves to meaningful friendships outside of our own race, our communities and churches will suffer.
There can be no symphony of brotherhood as King spoke of when the chords of our own relationships continue to look and sound the same.
3) …refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt…
One of the greatest contributions that the black church provided during the years of King and those leading the civil rights movement was that societal issues must always be engaged with Biblical truth. Marches and sit-ins were not organized in boardrooms, but rather in the pulpits on Sunday morning.
Dr. Tony Evans, Senior Pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Church and the author of Oneness Embraced, when contrasting the differences between churches now versus then, states that “the missing component of their ethical relational outworking within their theology nullifies their religious activity.” He adds that our Christianity can become contradictory when we “relegate it to others while at the same time complaining to God that He is not responding to our needs.”
In other words, for the local church to be acting in accordance with God’s will, it must be fully engaged with pursuing justice for those whom God loves, those whom society continues to marginalize. The bank of justice will continue to go bankrupt if the church is silent and withholds its outspoken deposits of love.
54 years have passed now since we first heard of that amazing dream, a dream that did not come from the lips of a politician or media journalist, but from the lips of a preacher.
For freedom to truly ring now from every mountainside, every hill and molehill, and from every village and every hamlet, it can no longer be done so through the dream of one man.
It can only be done through a united church.