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Martin Luther King Jr.

by Frank Kaufmann, January 24, 2015

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This paper was prepared for oral presentation at the conference entitled

Reverend Martin Luther King Jr

His contribution to reconciliation and world peace
An interfaith celebration

Due to the unusual focus of the meeting, the first part of the talk addresses the
appropriateness of the conference theme.

I wish to commend the organizers for this visionary and creative idea of
this meeting, and I would like to thank you for your kind invitation and
Both defining categories for this meeting are unusual in relation to Dr.
Of course Dr. King is associated with civil rights, and with the United States,
rather than with reconciliation and world peace. And is largely

Martin Luther King Jr.

by Frank Kaufmann, January 24, 2015
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understood to have led his life as a Christian, with very little in his history
and effort connected to what people traditionally think of as interfaith.
Not every great man or woman is great for all desirable things. The
people who break through our bondage as a race usually meet history in
unique ways and times, and fuse with the divine for the sake of our
The great divisions, the great oppressions, the great injustices that
enslave us all require liberators of such uncommon glory, that we are
tempted to look to these people to speak to all that binds and degrades
us. We can say that we are in danger of exaggerating our liberators in
two ways.
We tend to make the person more than he or she is in terms of their virtue,
their goodness, their saintliness. And we try to exaggerate range of the
persons achievements
We should not do that. Neither about ourselves, nor about others. We do
better to honor the good God has given, and the good our brothers and
sisters achieve as they truly are.
With historical greats like Dr. King, the wellspring of good already is
sufficient unto the end of time. We need not invent or contrive. Instead
let us use our energy to learn more deeply, more truly, and more seriously
about such lives, their impact, and their achievements. We should do so
with courage and confidence. We need not add, and need not conceal
or alter.
With that said, can we really find in Dr. Kings life and work a legacy
related to reconciliation and world peace? Can we really find a standard
set for the ideal of interfaith?
I say we can. These were not the main focus of his life and work. They are
not the most radiant outcomes of his sacrifice and gift to world affairs,
but in my view, there are strong implications in Kings contributions to

Martin Luther King Jr.

by Frank Kaufmann, January 24, 2015
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these areas.
Due to the brevity of time, I will present these only by way of introduction.
Perhaps I will have the chance to develop them more fully on some other
I believe the two most important things to know about Dr. King are that,
1. He was genuinely religious, and 2. He fought victoriously for the rights
of the oppressed.
He said: Before I was a civil rights leader, I was a preacher of the Gospel.
This was my first calling and it still remains my greatest commitment. You
know, actually all that I do in civil rights I do because I consider it a part
of my ministry. I have no other ambitions in life but to achieve excellence
in the Christian ministry
His last words before his life was taken by an assassin, was to ask a
musician to play a particular Christian hymn to be played later that
The combination of these two non negotiable passions in Dr. Kings life,
and his deeply pensive theological sophistication contributed to make
King rightfully worthy of his ever growing stature and attraction among
people. And they are key to why people such as ourselves want to
stretch the implications of his life and battle into areas not typically
attributed to him.
The problem is that there is evil in the world. There is poverty, injustice,
aggression, and oppression. On the other hand, there are religions in the
world, and there is the force of conscience within us all. This is a clash.
Spiritual and religious awareness (in its healthy and non-perverted forms)

Martin Luther King Jr.

by Frank Kaufmann, January 24, 2015
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do not accept evil. Similarly the conscience of normal people (who have
not beaten and dulled their sensitivity by the constant repetition of bad
behavior) does not countenance in any form these assaults and
The question is however, what are we to do about this fact? What is a
spiritual person, a religious person, a man and woman of conscience
supposed to do? What do we do when we see evil, oppression, poverty,
hunger, injustice? The answer to this question is what makes Dr. King
forever important, and what makes his life applicable in areas of global
disorder not originally related to his own particular march.
If we examine our current world, it is ablaze with tension, war, and
barbarism. It is in desperate need of reconciliation on a global scale as
indicated by our conference theme. A key sub-text of the horrors about
which we read daily, is the tragedy and shame of inter-religious
What King did as he stood in the crucible of this blood-soaked collision
between good and evil, was to forge the path that honored both
heaven and earth. Heaven does not permit violence. It is not a violent
place. It doesnt not permit revenge, and does not justify means with
ends. Heaven requires that every thought, word, and act must me worthy
of God.
But heaven likewise does not permit oppression, injustice, and degrading
need and offense as it abounds on earth. A man and woman who is
faithful to God MUST charge into the battle of righteousness and the
liberation of all.
Spiritual life cannot be so selfish as to worry only about myself and my

Martin Luther King Jr.

by Frank Kaufmann, January 24, 2015
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pathetic and inconsequential salvation. It cannot be so callous as to say

to mother holding a starving child, well understand it better by and by.
We must act, must right wrongs, must fell the agents of evil in human
affairs, but must do so never offending the Love of God and the
standards of heaven.
Finally, when goodness prevails, it must be for all. It never creates winners
and losers, or it is not goodness.
The path of non-violence that King embodied even as he watched his
own people murdered, and the victories he realized in his short life for the
rights of all Americans is the reason why we must uphold his way, not just
from a distance, in commemoration once a year, but with every breath
we take.