Fifty-five years ago this month, Aug. 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. took his place on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and addressed a crowd of 250,000. His name is permanently linked with the Civil Rights movement. Boulevards, schools and institutions are named for him. But Martin Luther King, Jr. was first and foremost a Baptist preacher and pastor.
His words that day, and the non-violent actions he adopted, grew out of his faith. When he announced, “I have a dream,” it was a dream that sprang from Scripture and the teachings of Jesus. Inspiring a generation to correct past wrongs, he exhorted, “in the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred …”
“I have a dream that one day my four little children will live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character … I have a dream that one day every valley will be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low. The rough places will be made plain and the crooked places will be made straight. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”
Dr. King’s words need to be heard again. The Bible is a dreamer’s book. God is always inviting us to a new dream that transcends prejudice, suspicion and resentment.
Abraham’s story begins with a vision and a dream: to leave his home in Mesopotamia so that God can make him a blessing to the nations. (Genesis 12:1-3). Jacob’s life is transformed in a dream at Bethel where he saw angels ascending and descending from Heaven. God told him, “In you and your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” (Genesis 28:14). Peter’s vision at Joppa changed his opinion regarding other ethnicities. He said, “I certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears him and does what is right is welcome to Him.” (Acts 10:34-35).
Paul the Apostle was a devout Jew when he was young. He had little use for Gentiles and was a zealous Pharisee. But a vision of Christ changed all of that. He later devoted his life to reaching people of all nations with the message of God’s love in Christ. In a world and a time known for its prejudice, violence, slavery and sexual abuse he wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Prejudice, discrimination, resentment and violence are enemies that never die. Every generation must redream the dream to overcome these destructive forces.