“This week the nation marks 50 years since the 1963 March on Washington. The most famous moment of that historic event is, of course, the speech by Martin Luther King Jr., now one of the most iconic speeches in American history. The refrain of that speech is one that is so embedded in the American memory that most people know the speech simply as the “I have a dream” speech. There are some things about that speech that likely could inform Christian preaching today.” Moore continues,
“He started with a contrast between the promised end to the injustice of slavery and the ongoing injustice of Jim Crow. This contrast is similar in content, though different somewhat in rhetoric, to King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. Against the so-called “white moderates” who counseled “patience,” King pointed out “an appalling condition” — that Americans were still, in large numbers, exiles in their own land. With such injustice, there was no room for the “tranquilizing drug of gradualism.”
What was King doing here? He was doing precisely what the Old Testament prophets did with Israel and Judah, pointing out sin and judgment, warning implicitly of the justice of God…”
King’s words, though, intentionally were resonant with the cadence of the King James Bible because he was speaking a word of judgment to a Bible Belt who knew that Bible. He wanted to confront consciences with what they said they believed. Whatever King’s personal doctrinal commitments were or weren’t, he didn’t preach Fosdick, Tillich or Niebuhr. He preached Jefferson and Madison and Lincoln to Americans, and he preached Amos and Isaiah and Jesus to Christians. And when the regenerate conscience is confronted with Jesus, remember what the Shepherd of Galilee said, “My sheep hear my voice….” more…
Russell D. Moore is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.