Since today is MLK Day, it seems good – particularly in a state and town almost 90% Caucasian – to pause to reflect on Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement of the late 1960s.
While a federal holiday, MLK Day does not seem all that big a deal here in Montana. True, Montana State University is canceling classes and their Diversity Awareness Office is sponsoring a reception and art display in King’s honor, but even Bozeman Public Schools are in class today with this calendar caveat: “With the approval of this calendar, the Board of Trustees, in commemoration of Martin Luther King Day (January 16, 2017), is directing that all teachers (K-5) and all social studies teachers (6-12) take action in the classroom to recognize and celebrate the principles for which Martin Luther King stood.”
As in previous years, Petra Academy is also in session today. Petra has never taken MLK Day off, and there’s rationale for that decision: a majority of parents (at least those not employed by the government) have to work anyway, and – for better or for worse – most students are probably not going to participate (with or without parents) in MLK receptions or services on their own when there are ski slopes and sledding hills in the vicinity. Thus, we have landed where Bozeman Public Schools has in leaving MLK Day to teachers to include as it makes sense within their curriculum and day. (Thankfully, because of presentations like the one 7th grade Humanities teacher Libby Kueneke gave to our entire Secondary at Lyceum last week, I think we do as good a job as anyone.)
But is it enough? I shared a few thoughts here last July lamenting the past summer’s spree of shootings and the continued racial tension in our country, but those were just words, just as anything we teach would be. And yet, because we still believe in words and the power they can hold, I find myself here again writing six months later, asking us to engage with our children today in discussing Dr. King and his work. God used this particular man (and others) to bring about needed change in our country, and our kids – especially our Montana kids – need to know and understand more about the awful and angry discrimination then and there in the South, so they can apply solutions to situations like the one happening in Whitefish here and now in the North.
One of my favorite Scriptural emphases to teach is the Christian foundation for racial reconciliation as lived out by the early Church in the book of Acts. One cannot read about the cross-cultural linguistic understanding given by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in Acts 2 or the Apostles ensuring the care of both the Hellenist and Hebrew widows in Acts 6 or Peter and John witnessing the coming of the Spirit to the Gentiles in Samaria in Acts 8 or Peter’s vision and interaction with Cornelius and the Caesarian Gentiles in Acts 10 (to name just a few) without recognizing God’s heart for unity among his people. Paul’s words in Galatians 3:28-29 sum up how we in the Church are to view one another: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”
As an heir according to the promise, Dr. King knew and built upon this Christian foundation of reconciliation; in fact, he would have had no message without it (it’s definitely there in King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, but for an even more pronounced biblical dependence, listen to “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” and try to imagine it having the same impact without its Scriptural references).
The point is this: it’s good to honor Dr. King with this day in January, and the best way we can do so is by honoring the Gospel he appealed to as the foundation of any freedom, equality, and unity we could have. Start with yourself and your kids, then reach out, befriend, and care for those who look different from you and see what God does.
It just may be enough.