The Invitation is Real

Okay, here’s the problem with celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King. We forget the Reverend.

Why does that matter? In our secular society, us lovely social justice advocates inspired by him to do truly good work in the world, we don’t need to know his theological foundation, do we? It is enough that we call him a “civil rights activist,” isn’t it? What harm can come when we praise his work and skate over his faith, when it is not his faith that inspires us? As with so much these days, we can “take what works” and “leave the rest.”

The trouble is, it’s a dangerous omission. And I’ll tell you why.

The current Christian flag flown by those storming the nation’s capital, and for decades waved over a capitalist, evangelical, conservative band wagon, has created, and rightly so, a disgust among us for the Christian faith. It has become a faith of bigotry, racism, hatred, anti-semitism, sexism, phobias of every kind, as well as a vehicle for oppression, unkindness and violence. (And, of course, we know enough to know that’s not new.)

1963. MLK giving his I Have a Dream Speech. Photo in the public domain.

But the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. didn’t invent ideas of social justice. He did not simply talk about “love” in the flowery language of the pop-up new age guru. His activism did not burst up from a Mary Oliver poem—however wonderful those poems may be (and they are wonderful). He based his social activism on a social gospel enacted by that guy Jesus, whom we love to hate. (My favorite joke is: Oh God, save me from your followers.) We may love MLK’s powerful devotion to liberation on the level of race and class, but if we do not anchor his work accurately, the only face of Christianity we ever see is an ugly one, both inaccurate and useless. It also separates each of us from the power of faith in our own lives—WHATEVER WE BELIEVE.

The day before he died, King said in a speech, “somehow the preacher must have a kind of fire shut up in his bones, and whenever injustice is around he must tell it.”

Faith and spirituality have a purpose far exceeding “self-care” and fancy yoga pants. Mr. Rogers was a minister, not just a nice man. King was a minister doing civil rights work not a civil rights leader with a causal interest in a Sunday service. The Dalai Lama, Gandhi, and so many other of our favorite, most inspired people are, in fact, people of faith. And it is this faith, their theology, their sense of God-ness and Good-nessthat created social movements and the power to work for them against ever-increasing opposition and senseless violence.

Think for a moment. If you love something about what King did, then you actually love something about God/Christianity/Agape (Divine Love)/Jesus/Spirituality/religion. If we take that in, then we have the opportunity to become ourselves people connected to a higher power. And I don’t care what you call it. I have no interest in converting anyone. I do not prescribe a direction. I am an interfaith minister because I believe passionately that each is called in a unique way. 

But to love the poetry of this man, MLK, to love his quotes, his message, his Dream, his socialism, his activism, his passion, we must allow that we are loving a deeply, profoundly religious person. Of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, he wrote in Papers, “Christ furnished the spirit and motivation” for the boycott.

We have thrown out religion—rightly so—but lost in that tossing a strength that we desperately need, one found in our connection to our Source, by whatever name we call it. For Christians, we need the progressive voice, as expressed so powerfully by King, to ring louder and louder because in losing it, we have lost totally the radical Jesus with a method for true human liberation. For the rest of us, we need more than our own toil and energy. Not because our toil and energy is not amazing. It is amazing. But it’s also too small for us and for our hopes. We can do more just as soon as we believe more.

And for those true un-believers out there—I know you and love you. I honor your path, too. But how wonderful if we can all look and say: wow, belief moves mountains. Maybe religion really is a total disaster. But personal faith is a force like no other. And if you don’t believe me, then what are you doing liking MLK? Maybe it is no accident. Maybe in liking him, responding to his wisdom and words, you are being invited into something deeper within yourself—for the good of all. He certainly was, wasn’t he? The deep spiritual work he did benefited so many, didn’t it?

Which is why it matters, the Reverend. And at this time in history maybe more than ever.

Watch the live version of this blog on my YouTube Channel.


  1. Supriya Hermenze on March 30, 2021 at 6:06 pm

    Rev. Sam Wilde, thank you for reminding me of this truth. I sometimes just want to run away from anything named religion because of the harm done in the name of religion. However, the true teachings of faith from all of the religions including Christianity are so very profound, inspiring, full of love and action toward justice for all beings.
    Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was definitely a man of deep faith first and his faith moved him toward being an activist for justice.

    Thank you so so much for this reminder. It helped me shift my consciousness.. you are awesome.

    • Samantha Wilde on March 30, 2021 at 8:11 pm

      I feel the same about in religion–it makes me want to run away, not towards.

  2. Rachel on April 1, 2021 at 8:11 am

    So beautifully said! “We can do more just as soon as we believe more…. Maybe religion really is a total disaster. But personal faith is a force like no other. “. Love these lines. The power of belief and knowing our strengths! Hope is a muscle. Thanks for the inspiring message, Rev Wilde!

    • Samantha Wilde on April 1, 2021 at 9:35 am

      Totally with you on: hope is a muscle. Believing in the good feels like its own practice.

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