Let’s Do More Than Remember Dr. King

This past Monday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. This national holiday is intended to be a time when Americans stop and reflect on the life and work of Dr. King. People did this in a variety of ways. A number of sports teams that typically play at night played special day games. There were special gatherings at churches and community centers. Government leaders gathered and made speeches. And there was a lot of analysis about the progress we’ve made as a nation in ending racism. All of this was and is very good and constructive and we need to keep doing it.

As we celebrate this day, I am concerned that, for many of us, this important day is only about remembering instead of remembering that leads us to action.

Some scholars suggest that if we were to summarize the Old Testament in one word it would be remember. Through Moses, the judges, Samuel and the prophets, God keeps calling Israel to remember. Remember that I brought you out of Egypt. Remember that you are my beloved. Remember my law. Remember how I gave you victory over your enemies. Remember all that I have done for you. The Israelites are eventually sent into exile because they don’t remember. It’s not that they don’t mentally remember; it’s that they don’t actively remember.

When God speaks about remembering, he is talking about bringing things to mind in order to affect behavior. The Israelites are said to remember when they obey God’s commands, when they follow his ways, when they live their lives as he desires. In the language of the Old Testament, to remember is to call to mind in order to move into action.

This is the spirit that we need about Dr. King’s message concerning the scourge of racism that has and continues to tear our nation apart at the seams. We need to be proactively thinking about our attitudes toward people of color, praying for God to change us and taking steps to move outside of our prejudicial mindsets. We need to take a stand for minorities who are taken advantage of by the system or the government or anyone. Because we have a tendency to ignore facts, we need to be honest about the inconsistent ways in which African-American citizens (men, in particular) are treated by the justice system compared with white citizens. We need to think of ways in which we can participate with others in addressing the issues of housing, income, employment, and education inequality that so often drive the problems of our inner cities. We need to speak up when people use prejudicial language, tell racist “jokes,” or demean people of color. We need to do this not just one day a year, but every day, all year.

This is not just an issue of social justice. This is an issue of Christian life. This is not some form of heroic service; this is simply the natural outcome of being a follower of Jesus.

Let’s take time to remember…let’s also do more.