Martin Luther King Jr. Was a Man of God. Why is the Secular Media Ignoring It? | Opinion

It's a story you didn't hear anywhere as the life of Martin Luther King Jr. was celebrated this week—even though without it, none of his efforts would have been possible: his devotion to his faith and his God. His devotion to Jesus Christ.

"To most Christians, the Bible is like a software license," Bill Maher once explained. "Nobody actually reads it. They just scroll down to the bottom and click, 'I agree.'"

Rev. Martin Luther King thought differently. Indeed, he found the Bible so compelling that his undergraduate degree was in Bible studies and his Ph.D. was in theology. To King, the Bible wasn't a software license. It was software code — a deep, mysterious code authored by God for man's eternal soul.

Leaving God out of Martin Luther King's life is like leaving naked young women out of Hugh Hefner's, hamburgers out of Ray Kroc's, or race out of Jackie Robinson's.

But that didn't stop the media from redacting references to the source of King's inspiration. There were endless references to Dr. King—but hardly if ever to Reverend King. The clips we heard and the videos played all week long focused exclusively on King's stirring secular rhetoric. What we did not hear were the parts of the speeches filled with references to God. Or the book from which sprang the source of this man's devotion to racial justice: the Bible.

We didn't hear a single word from King's remarkable speech "A Knock at Midnight," a speech any four-year-old can find on Google. King started the speech with a quote from Luke 11:5–6: "Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him'?"

He then leapt right into the speech:

"Although this parable is concerned with the power of persistent prayer, it may also serve as a basis for our thought concerning many contemporary problems and the role of the church in grappling with them. It is midnight in the parable; it is also midnight in our world, and the darkness is so deep that we can hardly see which way to turn. It is midnight within the social order."

King then spent a short time talking about the miracles of modern science, but noted that even the greatest scientific theorem can't solve the moral and spiritual problems of the modern age. He then proceeded to deliver a blistering critique of moral relativism:

"Moral principles have lost their distinctiveness. For modern man, absolute right and wrong are a matter of what the majority is doing. Right and wrong are relative to likes and dislikes and the customs of a particular community. We have unconsciously applied Einstein's theory of relativity, which properly described the physical universe, to the moral and ethical realm. This mentality has brought a tragic breakdown of moral standards, and the midnight of moral degeneration deepens."

King was tough on the technology and science crowd, but he didn't leave the church unscathed in this speech, either.

"When the man in the parable knocked on his friend's door and asked for the three loaves of bread, he received the impatient retort, 'Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.' How often have men experienced a similar disappointment when at midnight they knock on the door of the church?"

King was referring to the white churches in the South that did little to correct the injustice of racial segregation – and much to promote it. But in the end, King understood that sin — and man coming up short of the calling of God — was not new. It's as old as the Old Testament.

King believed that real hope and change can only be found through God's love. Here's how he closed that speech:

"The dawn will come. Disappointment, sorrow, and despair are born at midnight, but morning follows. 'Weeping may endure for a night,' says the Psalmist, 'but joy cometh in the morning.' This faith adjourns the assemblies of hopelessness and brings new light into the dark chambers of pessimism."

I'd bet the family farm, if I owned one, that if you reviewed the stories about King this past week, you wouldn't find a word of that speech anywhere. And while you might find quotes from perhaps his most well-known piece of writing, "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," you are very unlikely to stumble on the key passages where King meditates on God's law.

The letter may be the most beautiful essay penned in the 20th century. In it, King addressed a question that was lingering on the minds of many pastors – and many Christians. When, if ever, is it permissible for a man of God to violate man's laws?

To answer that question, King turned to a higher power:

"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."

In that same essay were these words about the country he loved: "We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands."

Sacred heritage? Eternal will of God? King would be run out of most academic settings using that language today.

We also heard endless comments about King's great courage this past week, but little about its source: King was courageous because of his faith. He was great because he was godly. That's what made him so dangerous to segregationists. And that's why totalitarians in every era always go after believers first. They fear the power of God's love most of all.

King had much to be angry about. But God's love was at the center of his message. He preached nonviolence, and carried himself with dignity no matter the circumstances. And he did so because his God commanded it. His God commanded that King love his neighbor as himself—all of his neighbors, not just those who treated him well.

Not everyone agreed with King's Christian approach.

A young African-American Muslim named Malcolm X had a very different vision. A brilliant public speaker, Malcolm was a member of the Nation of Islam. He believed King's talk of love and mercy was weak, and often accused King of being an "Uncle Tom."

In a speech in Detroit in 1963 called "Message to the Grass Roots," he said this of King and his Christian followers:

"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."

A bit later in the speech, he attacked King's nonviolent, Christian approach—and called for open rebellion:

"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 wasn't finished. He then went on to mock King:

"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."

Luckily for all of us, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision prevailed, and Malcolm X's didn't.

And lucky for all of us. Malcom X would go on to repudiate much of his own rhetoric, and go through transformational changes, all beautifully depicted in his autobiography, and a movie directed by Spike Lee starring Denzel Washington.

Here, too, the role of faith is excised from the common narrative of the civil rights era. Both Malcolm's militancy and his transformation at the end of his life were animated by grappling with racism and discrimination using the tenets of his faith: Islam. But you won't hear the story of how the same religion could ground such different convictions in the same man, in the same lifetime, either. The fascinating, essential role of faith is discarded in favor of a generic, secularized narrative.

King talked about God right up until his tragic death. The night before he was killed in April of 1968, he gave a speech at a church in Memphis that included over a dozen references to the Bible. It was a prophetic speech, as if the 39-year-old somehow knew his life would soon be cut short:

"Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will," King told a spellbound audience. "And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land."

King was on fire in the speech, and the audience was, too. They didn't know — they couldn't know — he would be assassinated the very next day at the Lorraine Hotel.

King's deep sense of his own mortality, and deeper sense of destiny, is reflected in the speech's ending: "And so I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!"

According to biographer Taylor Branch, the very last words King ever spoke were to a musician named Ben Branch, who was scheduled to perform at an event that night in Memphis. "Ben," King said, "make sure you play 'Take My Hand, Precious Lord' in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty."

The one enduring truth the media can't rewrite, as hard as they might try each and every year his life is celebrated, is this: Martin Luther King Jr.'s desire to serve the God he loved changed forever the country he loved.

Lee Habeeb is VP of content for Salem Radio Network and host of "Our American Stories." He lives in Oxford, Mississippi, with his wife, Valerie, and his daughter, Reagan.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​