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Christianity Reflected In Two Historic Writings From Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
February is Black History Month. Many schools will highlight the contributions and accomplishments of various African-Americans in history. This provides an excellent opportunity for students to also learn about the influence of Christianity on the Civil Rights Movement. For example, if students are to truly understand Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s activities for Civil Rights, they need to understand how Christianity influenced his thinking.
Public school officials recognize the Christian influence
on Dr. King. For example, the California State Department of Education
recommends that "[students] should understand Dr. King's philosophical and
religious dedication to nonviolence by reading documents such as his 'Letter
from a Birmingham Jail,' and they should recognize the leadership of the black
churches in the movement." (History-Social Science Framework for California
Public Schools: 2001 Updated Edition with Content Standards, p. 147)
In his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," Dr. King answered a group of clergymen who had criticized him for his civil rights involvement. One of their accusations was that Dr. King was an extremist. His eloquent response is filled with biblical references. In addressing the accusation of extremism, Dr. King quotes Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.
That portion of the Sermon on the Mount is found in Matthew 5:43-44. This
passage is crucial to understanding what public school officials call Dr. Kings'
"religious dedication to nonviolence."
is well within legal boundaries for students to read Jesus' words in the Sermon
on the Mount as well as to read the description of Christ's crucifixion. How
could a student truly understand Dr. King's references without reading the
actual stories from the Bible?
"…it might well be said that one's education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization. It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities. Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment."
I Have A Dream
Dr. King's famous "I have a dream" speech reflects his ideals rooted in biblical thinking. As Dr. King said:
spoke of America's Founding Fathers' declaration of the inalienable right to
life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as "a sacred obligation" for "all
God's children." He echoed I Peter 3:13-17 when he urged those who had suffered
persecution to "continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is
This rarely-quoted portion of his speech reveals, again, the biblical foundation
for his dream. Isaiah 40 speaks of deliverance and comfort. The chapter ends
with the triumphant "He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might
He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young
men shall utterly fall, But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their
strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be
weary, they shall walk and not faint."
Discussion Questions Regarding "Letter from…" and the Sermon on the Mount
Discussion Questions Regarding "Letter from…" and the Crucifixion
Discussion Questions Regarding "I have a dream" and the Bible
Eric Buehrer. "Christianity Reflected In Two Historic Writings From Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr." Gateways to Better Education 2003.
Reprinted with permission from Gateways to Better Education.
For permission to photocopy this article, contact Gateways to Better Education.
Eric Buehrer is the president of Gateways to Better Education — a ministry helping Christian parents, teachers, school officials, and students to articulate a Christian worldview in the public schools without fear or embarrassment. To receive a free subscription to their newsletter, or for information on having Mr. Buehrer bring his presentation to your church, write to Gateways to Better Education, P.O. Box 514, Lake Forest, CA 92609-0514; or call (949) 586-5437. Visit their website at www.gtbe.org.
Copyright © 2003 Gateways to Better Education