Dr. King is most known for his work in racial conciliation in America, but he was not merely motivated by overturning Jim Crow for the sake of American blacks, but by an abiding belief in justice itself, doing right in all spheres, not just those that affect us personally, but a global, universal, concern for the well-being of all mankind. "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" he wrote. "I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, men other-centered can build up." The "liberty and justice for all" of our pledge of allegiance turned outward.
King's social justice vision is rooted in the so-called social gospel, as taught by Jesus and Paul and other writers of the Biblical epistles. Read the Sermon on the Mount or the book of James; feed the hungry, care for the poor, the widow, the orphan. Do we do these things? Honestly? Some do, but most, myself included, do not, not with any real fervor. This is a terrible conviction. It's easy to sit and "celebrate" MLK and his accomplishments and pat ourselves on the back saying, "look how far we've come" on his appointed day and move along, back to our lives, but the fact is the work to which he dedicated, and ultimately gave, his life continues on today, from the folks at Amnesty International to The Innocence Project to the streets of Syria and all over the world, and we would pay far more respect to his legacy by redoubling our personal and collective effort to the causes of justice and rightness than any national holiday or massive marble monument ever could. King would urge you to make your life a monument to righteousness. He would appeal to us to shake off comfortable satisfaction with the status quo of our own lives knowing others are suffering somewhere and there may be something that could be done about it. In need of a New Years resolution? Here it is.
...we have adopted a sort of a pragmatic test for right and wrong-whatever works is right. Nothing is wrong but that which does not work. If you don’t get caught, it’s right. That’s the attitude, isn’t it? It’s all right to disobey the Ten Commandments, but just don’t disobey the Eleventh: Thou shall not get caught. That’s the attitude. That’s the prevailing attitude in, in our culture...we must remember that it’s possible to affirm the existence of God with your lips and deny his existence with your life. The most dangerous type of atheism is not theoretical atheism, but practical atheism- that’s the most dangerous type...And I think, my friends, that that is the thing that has happened in America. That we have unconsciously left God behind. Now, we haven’t consciously done it, we, we have unconsciously done it. We just became so involved in things that we forgot about God...All I’m trying to say is our world hinges on moral foundations. It’s not enough to know all about our philosophical and mathematical disciplines. But we’ve got to know the simple disciplines, of being honest and loving and just with all humanity. If we don’t learn it, we will destroy ourselves.