By Tonya Whitaker
Inside The Pew
Jan. 16 is the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. While churches and numerous organizations throughout the land will celebrate this day, King’s legacy goes beyond his unselfishness to stand up against social injustice. Beyond his words, King is a solid rhetorician with the ability to communicate a powerful message orally (“I Have a Dream”) and in print (“Letter From Birmingham Jail”).
As a graduate student, I was fortunate to research and write an expansive study of Martin Luther King’s letter. I consider it a concrete piece of rhetoric; it is King’s best. Although the letter was intended to address the criticisms from fellow clergy members, the letter took on greater meaning for all readers.
The storytelling and direct reference to historical “extremists” (King’s reference) is impressive, to say the least.
- Apostle Paul – “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.”
- Martin Luther – “Here I stand; I can do none other so help me God.”
- John Bunyan – “I will stay in jail to end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.”
- Thomas Jefferson – “We hold these truths self-evident that all men are created equal.”
- Abraham Lincoln – “The nation cannot survive half slave, half free.”
King’s use of Paul, Luther, Bunyan, Jefferson, and Lincoln as extremists is part of the letter’s impressiveness. On this day, take a moment to celebrate King and read his letter in its entirety.
Martin Luther: 500 years of influence
The legacies of Martin Luther and MLK are forever linked, thanks to MLK Sr.
According to the organizer of the Luther commemoration, LutherCountry, Michael King, visited Germany in 1934. The elder King was moved by the life of the Protestant Reformation leader that Michael King Sr. changed his and his son’s names to Martin Luther King senior and junior.
MLK is one of many who found inspiration for their protests through Luther. This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, which began with the posting of Luther’s 95 Theses on the door of Wittenberg’s Castle Church on Oct. 31, 1517. Luther’s 95 outlined his discontent with the Roman Catholic Church’s use of indulgences (selling salvation). He believed the only way to salvation is through faithfulness to Christ and adhering to his teachings, not by purchasing sacraments. Instead of accepting the punishment levied against him by the church, Luther stood behind the word of God.
“It is almost impossible to write the history of western civilization without mentioning Luther,” said Oxford University theologian Alister McGrath in “Martin Luther: Driven to Defiance.” We should stand up for things we believe. The idea that every person is precious in the sight of God.”
Luther’s protest in 1517 has inspired, and continues to inspire, Americans. Thousands are planning to visit LutherCountry in 2017, to walk in Luther’s footsteps. Those, who cannot travel to Germany in the celebration year, can still join in the commemorations in a very 21st century way: online.
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