The legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., and the God that frees

A Christian Science perspective: The new memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. to this viewer honors the eloquence, strength, and inspiration of a leader and spiritual thinker.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that (1963).”

So reads one of the inscriptions on the wall that forms the backdrop to the statue of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at his memorial in Washington, D.C.

Like many new endeavors in our nation’s capital, this memorial has generated its share of attention, opinion, and controversy, even before its previously scheduled dedication was postponed because of hurricane Irene. Could the design of the memorial have been made more representative of Dr. King and his work? Did the sculptor capture King’s likeness? Were the right quotations from King’s writings and speeches chosen to be chiseled into stone, presumably to be read for generations?

Such concerns are probably beside the point for those who wish to adopt a spiritual perspective. With an emphasis on the theme of hope, the memorial stands tall – the statue of King is approximately 30 feet high – as a reminder of the impetus behind King’s words and works.

I took a peek at the new monument on a recent sun-drenched day. To me, it seemed to memorialize qualities beyond politics: the eloquence, strength, and inspiration of a leader and spiritual thinker who embodied the struggle for racial equality, the pursuit of justice, and the belief that love is the most effective agent of change.

The Bible, which, as a pastor, King knew well and quoted often, certainly has much to say on these subjects. The night before he was assassinated, King gave a speech in Memphis, Tenn. In it, he referred to a vision of the Promised Land and said, echoing Moses, that he had been to the “mountaintop” to view it. He assured his listeners that “we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”

Although much work remains to be done, most would agree that there is abundant evidence of progress toward racial equality in America since King made that prophetic speech in 1968.

Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, believed in the right of every individual, of all races, to be free from oppression and to experience equal opportunity. In “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” she wrote, “Discerning the rights of man, we cannot fail to foresee the doom of all oppression” (p. 227).

Mrs. Eddy also emphasized, however, that complete freedom from oppression involves more than just the liberation from racial inequality and prejudice. For mankind to be truly free, men and women must overcome all the beliefs and limitations imposed by evil in all its forms, including those of sin, sickness, and death. On the same page she wrote, “Christian Science raises the standard of liberty and cries: ‘Follow me! Escape from the bondage of sickness, sin, and death!’ Jesus marked out the way” (p. 227).

This way – the Christly path of loving your neighbor as yourself – leads to the healing of all divisions and hatred. It leads to the establishment of peace, wherein no vestige or memory of a history of evil or inequality exists. And it ultimately leads to freedom from all enslavement to sickness, fear, sin, and mortality.

Although the design of the Martin Luther King Memorial may be a talking point for some into the years ahead, the spiritual essence of King’s mission is more durable than the stone out of which the memorial was made. The fruits of King’s efforts to achieve equality and civil rights evidence the effect of spiritual truth at work in the world.

As Eddy wrote: “One infinite God, good, unifies men and nations; constitutes the brotherhood of man; ends wars; fulfils the Scripture, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself;’ annihilates pagan and Christian idolatry, – whatever is wrong in social, civil, criminal, political, and religious codes; equalizes the sexes; annuls the curse on man, and leaves nothing that can sin, suffer, be punished or destroyed” (Science and Health, p. 340).

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