It’s been said that the best way to spot a false prophet is by listening for the man or woman who tells you exactly what you want to hear. Want to be rich, famous, popular, and beautiful? Well then, I can assure you, you will find dozens of “prophets” who will gladly promise you such things.
No, the true prophets of God are those who’s message so grates against the elites, the establishment and the status quo of their time that they are often killed as a result. (Matthew 23:37). Martin Luther King Jr. demonstrated he was a prophet in the truest sense, and 50 years ago today, on April 4, 1968, he paid the ultimate price because of it.
You see, Dr. King’s words were steeped in 250 years of slavery, a bloody Civil War, the legacy of a slain president who proclaimed emancipation, and a hundred more years of Jim Crow, redlining, segregation and oppression. It was upon this backdrop that he formulated his clarion call of freedom for the captives and the oppressed, and then marched it from the “heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania to the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.”
In mine and many others’ opinion, the two greatest American prophets of the last century were Rev. Billy Graham and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Billy Graham’s recent passing, along with the anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination, have caused many to ask the question: Who will carry on Billy Graham’s message of righteousness and Martin Luther King’s march for justice?
But this is the wrong question to ask.
There will never be another Billy Graham and there will never be another Martin Luther King, Jr. In spite of their flaws, they were singular and set apart. We must therefore, avoid the temptation of looking to a single man or woman to usher us through the many challenges of our present day.
On this most solemn of anniversaries, all Americans should rightly reflect upon the message of Martin Luther King Jr. and wonder what he would confer upon our nation if he could speak to us once again from the courthouse in Selma, or the limestone colonnade of the Lincoln Memorial? What would his thundering baritone call forth from America’s soul in 2018? What demons would shudder when he called them by name?
In 2010, I had the honor of becoming the first Latino keynote speaker at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Service. Drawing on so many of Dr. King’s own themes and convictions, I attempted to remind those with ears to hear that true justice does not belong to the red states or the blue states, to liberals or conservatives, the donkey or the elephant; but, it flows from on high for the purpose of lifting up the low. “Justice,” I shouted, “is not a political term to be exploited, but a prophetic term to be lived out!”
In that same spirit, and taken in today’s context, I believe Dr. King’s legacy admonishes us all to stop “ injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane…” I believe he would call by name the dishonesty and division that marks our political rhetoric and our social discourse and which drives a wedge of tribalism, racism and classism between us. I believe he would warn us of the danger of relinquishing the righteous territory he and so many others fought so bravely to secure 50 years ago.
We live in a day where we are taught to hate those who disagree with us. We are told that America is in the midst of a battle between two divergent worldviews, between the rich and the poor, black, brown and white, capitalists and socialists. Let us not be fooled into such small minded thinking. Let us remember they said the same things in Dr. King’s day, and even though he heard the death threats, he continued dreaming of a day where freedom would ring from every corner of this blessed country.
America, I am convinced, is still the best hope of freedom loving peoples all around the world. As a nation, we are bent toward generosity and goodness and we are hungry for justice. I believe Dr. King saw that same mark of God’s providence on this country, and instead of despising America for its sins, he called out the very best in each and every one of us who call her home.
If Billy Graham preached faith and a rightness with God, Dr. King prophetically showed us what to do once we’d received it. He knew the Lord was not, and is not, done with America – not even close – and that’s a legacy we are all responsible for carrying forward.