For those who ask the question, “Aren’t you a civil rights leader?” and thereby mean to exclude me from the movement for peace, I have this further answer. In 1957, when a group of us formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, we chose as our motto: “To save the soul of America.” We were convinced that we could not limit our vision to certain rights for black people, but instead affirmed the conviction that America would never be free or saved from itself until the descendants of its slaves were loosed completely from the shackles they still wear. In a way we were agreeing with Langston Hughes, that black bard of Harlem, who had written earlier:
O, yes, I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath?
America will be!
— Martin Luther King, Jr. “Beyond Vietnam“
If you are a Christian, Jesus Christ of the New Testament is very specific about what he wants you to do: follow him.
And just like you’d expect a Messiah would, he has a lot of “followers,” must most of them don’t go the whole way. They try to be good people. They find their own ways to serve God and their communities, but martyrdom is something most Western-based Christians haven’t put in a lot of stock. It’s easier to worship, donate, pray on it or ignore it, then ask for forgiveness for the ignoring. After all, you simply want to live your life, but if you’ve read the New Testament, so did Jesus, and he went through with the whole crucifixion anyway.
This isn’t to compare slain Civil Rights Activist Martin Luther King Jr. with “the King of Kings,” but to explain what it means to do the right thing even when it would be easier on you and everyone you love to just be another garden variety Baptist minister who tells you to be a good citizen and pray for your salvation.