Photo credit: Marilyn Nieves
Northeastern Seminary students share reflections and thoughts on the life and ministry of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This series features voices of students pursuing many different areas of theological study and ministry preparation. Their unique insight and response to the call to ministry provide thoughtful and moving windows into the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Those of us who live in the twentieth century are privileged to live in one of the most momentous periods of human history. It is an exciting age, filled with hope. It is an age in which a new world order is being born. We stand today between two worlds: the dying old and the emerging new.
Now I am aware of the fact that there are those who would contend that we stand in the most ghastly period of human history. They would argue that the rhythmic beat of the deep rumblings of discontent from Africa, the uprisings in Asia, the confusion surrounding Suez, and the racial tensions of America are all indicative of the deep and tragic midnight which encompasses our civilization. They would argue that instead of going forward we are going backwards. We are retrogressing, they would say, instead of progressing. But far from representing retrogression and tragic meaninglessness, the present tensions represent the necessary pains that accompany the birth of anything new. Long ago, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus argued that justice emerges from the strife of opposites. And in modern philosophy Hegel preached a doctrine of growth through struggle. And somehow it seems to be both historically and biologically true that there can be no birth and growth without birth and growing pains. Wherever we confront the emergence of the new, there is the recalcitrance of the old. And so, what we're witnessing in our world today—the tensions which we are witnessing—are indicative of the fact that a new world is being born and that an old world is passing away.
In his speech, “Facing the Challenge of a New Age,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. expressed how marginalized and oppressed people revolted against injustices around the world. The elicited response of the oppressors was marked by violence and other injustices. In America, the non-violent protests of the Civil Rights Movement were a source of empowerment and a means to restore lost dignity and respect to a people who were made to feel inferior. Despite the injustices against blacks in the south, Dr. King and those who followed him had hope that things would change. But things would not change on their own and change would not come without a struggle. In his speech, Dr. King used the analogy of a woman giving birth to illustrate the fact that there are pains before the arrival of a new life.
New life was on the horizon. The emboldened activists of the past lifted the climate of fear and endured suffering for the price of freedom for blacks and poor white Americans. Freedom that brings new life was marching her way into the streets, the educational and judicial systems, voting booths, and the housing and job markets. Freedom was coming to encourage and strengthen not only black Americans, but all Americans. For as long as there is an oppressed people in a nation there can be no true peace. For Dr. King, “True peace is not merely the absence of some negative force—tension, confusion, or war; it is the presence of some positive force—justice, good will and brotherhood [and sisterhood].” For Dr. King, peace results in unity among the races and justice for all.
How far has America come to Dr. King’s vision? Does our nation have peace? Are we united if some people still suffer injustices? Are we united if black lives do not matter, or if those of the Islamic and Jewish faiths are targets of hate crimes? Are we united if some are treated as superior, while others are treated as inferior? What are the challenges that we face in our time? Do the voices of discontent and lament all around the world mean that change is on the way?
Answers are found in the gospel. The apostle Paul, for example, believed that God was creating a new multicultural, multiethnic Christ-centered humanity that lives as Christ in the world by the power of God’s Spirit so that the world may experience freedom and new life (Gal 3:2; Rom 8:21-23; 2 Cor 5:17). And Dr. King captured Paul’s vision and projected it for all to see. Dr. King beautifully reimagined the future of America and with it, he captured the attention of the people. Dr. King believed that America would progress from the old age of oppression, hatred, violence, and injustice to that new age of liberation, love, peace, and unity! While we have made great strides in the past sixty years because of passionate people like Dr. King, we have yet to arrive to such an age. But we will arrive.
In what way can you help create a culture where all people are treated with equality, respect, and dignity? How can you show others what new life in Christ looks like? How can you help alleviate fear in others and bring peace and reconciliation to a broken world?
Karen Jenkins (M.Div.) is a wife and mother of five children. She is an ordained elder in the Free Methodist Church and attends Community of the Savior in Rochester, N.Y. Karen is a graduate of the Certificate in Christian Ministry program from Northeastern Seminary and is now pursuing a Master of Divinity degree.
 Martin Luther King, “Facing the Challenge of a New Age,” Address Delivered at NAACP Emancipation Day Rally, January 1, 1957, Atlanta, Georgia, accessed January 11, 2018, http://action.naacp.org/page/-/History/Facing.the.Challenge.of.A.New.Age.at.Atlanta.Branch.Emanicpation.Program.1-1-57.pdf.