Dr. King was of course a minister with a strong personal faith. He was a Christian, perhaps in the best sense of that label. Yet, it seems clear to me that Martin was also a freethinking kind of mind whose intentions and goals were utimately similar if not identical to freethinking secular minds.
Dr. King was one shining inspiration for me to enter the ministry, especially chaplaincy, in the 1980’s. His words continued to ring as I read them with jail inmates, streetpeople and congregational classes. And those words still ring for me, years after leaving the church, faith and ministry–at least “formal” (ordained) ministry.
On this weekend when the world remembers Dr. King and celebrates his legacy, I was reading his last Sunday morning sermon. He was preaching in the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. The date was March 31, 1968, just days before his body–but not his mind–was silenced.
The sermon was “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” Here are just a few excerpts. I think they help establish the fact that this wise leader, though he employed images and stories from his own tradition, was indeed a freethinker with his feet firmly rooted in our secular world.
“One of the great liabilities of life is that all too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses, that the new situation demands. They end up sleeping through a revolution.”
“We are challenged to develop a world perspective. . . . We must all learn to live together as brothers [and sisters]. Or we will all perish together as fools.”
“We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.”
“The time is always ripe to do right.”
“Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation.”
“I say to you that our goal is freedom, and I believe we are going to get there because however much she strays from it, the goal of America is freedom.”
Dr. King ends this eloquent call to the faithful to Wake Up by asking people to be “participants in this newness” to “bring about a new day of justice and brotherhood and peace.”
Yes, he says these words and hopes and prayers in the name of God. But he speaks to all people who are Awakening, to all who share that dream of the new day.
For me, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr is a kind of Secular Saint. Certainly a Freethinking Chaplain ringing a bell for freedom of body and mind.
Spiritual and secular alike. May we awaken together. And, may his message never rest!