The rock band U2 wrote a song early in their career entitled "Pride (In the Name of Love)." Although the song is rife with Christian imagery and is ultimately an anthem about faith in Jesus Christ, it does contain strong allusions to the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. For instance, there are references to April 4th, shots ringing out in the Memphis sky, and being "free at last." This song has become one of U2's signature pieces and is a personal favorite of mine. I am reminded of it today as we celebrate the anniversary of Dr. King's assassination in 1968.
When I consider Dr. King's legacy, I cannot help but think of two things: courage and conviction. He was a man of strong faith-based and cultural ideologies. He had a singular goal to free an oppressed people, and he put all of his efforts and energies into achieving that goal. What is more, he took a stand for what he believed, even while facing threats of bodily harm and social ostracism. Dr. King never shied away from doing the "hard right." Arguably his most famous moment of courage and conviction came when he made his "I Have a Dream" speech during the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. But this was just one of many such instances.
What impresses me most about Dr. King's legacy is that he demonstrated such strident courage and conviction using peaceable means. He was everything but a violent activist. In fact, he was guided in the late 1950s and early to mid-1960s by a practical philosophy of non-violence. Furthermore, he was a man of respect, always showing both friends and enemies his genuine love and grace. He rightly maintained that the way to win any political or social battle is to deploy the triad of peace, patience, and persistence.
We can learn a lot from Dr. King today. It seems that our current cultural and political environment is one of strong convictions--which is good--but far too often activists turn to violence as a means of communicating their frustrations (e.g., school shootings, mob protests, looting, etc.) or take the low road of deriding their opponents with malicious accusations, which, in some cases, are blatant falsehoods. On a day like today, I can only believe that Dr. King would never have condoned these cheap means of social protest. He was not a perfect man, but he consistently strove to take the moral high ground and be the honorable person and activist God intended him to be.
Our challenge today is to follow his example. We all have our convictions, but what many of us fail to cultivate is our courage of character. As such, we become slaves to our own pride, selfishness, and bitter emotionalism. This leads us down dark paths. But in those rare moments when we witness a beautiful convergence of conviction and courage like that of Dr. King's, we should grab hold and never let go; indeed, we should model our lives after it. Then, and only then, will we be truly free.