But whose justice? His own? The government’s? The Supreme Court’s?
Don’t trust me on this one. In what may be the most beautiful document written in the 20th century, “Letter from aBirmingham Jail,” King identified his source of inspiration:
We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.
King was in jail when he wrote that because he believed that the law man had created — segregation ––was unjust. In jail, he addressed why, as a man of God, he felt compelled to break the law to change it:
How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.
That was King speaking with clarity. He was fearless, and he was faithful, and that’s what made him so dangerous to segregationists and racists. And that’s why totalitarians always get rid of God as their first order of business.
But King also invoked God’s mercy in his speeches. And nonviolence was his methodology. Peaceful protests, he thought, were the most effective way to stir the conscience of a nation.
Not everyone agreed with King’s approach in the early 1960s. A young Muslim named Malcolm X had a different vision for black America. Malcolm X was a member of the Nation of Islam and a follower of its leader, Elijah Muhammad. Like King, Malcolm X was a brilliant orator, but he had little tolerance for King’s Christian emphasis on nonviolence — especially the whole part about loving our enemies, and the part about loving the same white people who had mistreated so many black people in our country.
Indeed, Malcolm X thought King was weak and his message feeble. On more than one occasion, he publicly accused King of being an Uncle Tom, a tool of the white establishment. In his “Message to the Grass Roots,” in Detroit 1963, he described the role of an Uncle Tom:
The same old slave master today has negroes who are nothing but modern Uncle Toms, 20th-century Uncle Toms, to keep you and me in check, keep us passive and peaceful and nonviolent. That’s Tom making you nonviolent.
Malcolm X wasn’t just taunting King; he was mocking his faith. In the same Detroit speech, he decried King’s Christian nonviolence.
A revolution is bloody. Revolution is hostile. Revolution knows no compromise. Revolution overturns and destroys everything that gets in its way. And you sit around here like a knot on a wall saying, “I’m going to love these folks no matter how much they hate me.” No, you need a revolution.
Malcolm X thought that all of the hymns, all the prayer, and all the church activity was just plain silly:
Whoever heard a revolution where they lock arms . . . singing “We Shall Overcome”? Just tell me. You don’t do that in a revolution. You don’t do any singing; you’re too busy swinging.
Talk about two competing visions.
Luckily for America, King’s Christian impulse prevailed.
You won’t hear any of this on TV or the radio this week. The media will ignore all of the yucky, messy God talk, all of the icky Jesus talk.
And you won’t ever hear the secular Left invoke the separation of church and state when it comes to King’s legacy. You will never hear the secular Left complain that King used the power of his pulpit, and the power of his Christian faith, to change the culture and, indeed, change the law.