"We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force."
--Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom speech.
In studying the life and words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and in speaking with many who knew him well, I have come to realize that a significant part of his work for justice and equality was disciple-making. I remember a civil rights giant from my hometown of Chicago, Dr. George "Ed" Riddick, sharing with me his concern that the civil rights movement was waning in strength. He mused that what the movement needed was some sort of "indoctrination" for people. He was a profound man--a savant in many respects--who always spoke profound words. Yet, on this summer afternoon in 1992, as I carried him home following a day's work at Operation PUSH, he struggled to find the word he wanted. I believe indoctrination is not the word he was looking for. It was disciple-making.
Dr. King was a master at discipling people for social transformation. He taught people to see the world God's way and to live in a Christ-like fashion. His philosophy of nonviolence found root in his theology about Jesus. He did not simply call people to love. He called them to love like Jesus loved, embodying self-sacrifice for what is right and for the redemption of the corrupt world we live in. He urged people to transform their world through soul force, which was not merely a metaphor for him. Soul force was doing right the right way, facing the impossible (like Jesus did), and trusting that God would do the rest.
The work of transformation is a gospel work tying together personal holiness and faithfulness to justice for the weak and exploited. (Luke 4:18-19) It should not primarily fall to civil rights organizations to work for justice. It is the Holy Spirit's work. It is the work of the Church. It is Christ's disciple's work. To this end, we develop strong disciples of Jesus Christ who are Holy Spirit-empowered and committed to bear their crosses in the world--leading people to Christ and teaching the world God's righteousness.