Martin Luther King

Introduction Excerpted from America Needs a New King

A Prophetic Voice in Leadership

By E C Andercheck

“We are tied together in a single garment of destiny,
caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.”

On The Beloved Community, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.[i]

The voice calling out for freedom and justice continues today, it continues to exclaim an urgent need for help, on behalf of the oppressed and marginalized; it calls from prisons, from underfunded schools and from the unemployment lines. It calls out from hurting places around the globe giving witness to injustice and evidencing the persisting systematic impact of racist and classist policies. This voice calls out for all Christians, for all people of compassion, for all to consider our society’s failure to live justly, to deliver social and economic justice for all. This voice sounds much like the cries for freedom that echoed in the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, when a young Martin Luther King, Jr.  became Pastor

If we listen carefully to these voices, separated by decades, but striking the same tone, it might chart the course for a path for renovation of our core societal economic structures, which are failing too many of God’s people every day. The voice calling out is from those brethren Jesus taught us to heard and head. “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40 KJV)

What is the mysterious formulation for a Christian Ideal to become fully acted out in a representative democracy today? I suggest we can address this question by undertaking a careful analysis of the history of the leadership of the Civil Rights Movement of the mid-twentieth Century, twenty-first century social challenges and the role of religion in both theaters.  The leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called for social and economic justice by employing a clear message based on Christian Agape Love, seeking to empower the oppressed; this resonated as a call of authority to people who valued human rights and dignity. Serious social and economic justice change can only be obtained if the call to action combines political agitation with respect for the governing system.

It is my appraisal that Dr. Martin Luther King’s leadership model contained the key essential elements for prophetic religious change agency, well grounded in a moral vision of human equality, built within a Christian theology, and driven to bring about a societal systemic change through a political renovation, not a revolution. There is a strong argument to support the notion that the Civil Rights movement gained its degree of success so directly because of the concurrent, if not always unified, activity of multiple types of religious leaders. This having been said, if we combine within our agency of change the elements of the leaders of the civil rights movement we see agitation to revolution with a balancing set of calls to reasonable renovation. I would make the case that the civil rights movement could not have achieved the degree of success it did without the extraordinary liberationist leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a theologically endowed prophetic leader.

I wish to argue simply that the beatific voice of Christ was heard in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., that there is not such a prophetic voice present today, and that such a voice is still potentially relevant today. So if a prophetic leader’s voice calls for social justice and economic distribution according to God’s plan, it cannot be a secular voice seeking compromise via coalition leadership, but must again be an uncompromised call from the religious community. This voice of justice must be able to step outside of the shackles of government service and operate beyond the constraints of secular constituency service to craft a universal message calling for the just sharing of goods amongst all of God’s creation. This voice is to be the reawakening of the Jesus Movement.

[i] Martin Luther King Jr., The speeches that changed the world, (London: Smith Davies, 2005), 154.