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Faith & Values

If the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were alive, he would have celebrated his 84th birthday this month. Monday, on the national holiday celebrating his birth, we honor his courage and determination to eradicate racial and economic injustice in America. Dr. King believed justice and equality could be realized through nonviolent action. He wanted to be known as a drum major for justice.

Dr. King was a Baptist pastor as well as a man of great vision and hope. Faith in God will have us believe that all things are possible, when human nature says equality is impossible. Segregationists of his day wanted the nation to believe inequality among races was God-ordained. Dr. King’s faith saw it differently.

As we look back on the civil-rights era from our 21st-century perch, it is hard to believe such bigotry existed for so long. The degradation black people endured by being relegated to the back of the bus and not being able to sit at a lunch counter or drink from a water fountain seems outrageous today.

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What seems just as implausible is that a man who had experienced these demeaning acts believed in the goodness of this country and the ethicality of the human heart to do the right thing. Dr. King believed all change could come about though nonviolent action and peaceful protest.

Today, we are in the midst of a major debate about how to keep our children safe from gun violence. The National Rifle Association would have us believe the only way to prevent violence is to have everyone armed for violence. Dr. King would find that line of thinking absurd. Violence begets violence.

What makes for peace? Economic justice, adequate mental-health care, affordable medications, adequate funding of public schools, eliminating bullying — these are just a few things that make for peace.

We long for the day when our children will be safe at school and all of us will be safe in worship, at the mall and at the movies. Congress has funded Homeland Security to have body scanners, luggage screeners and metal detectors in every airport. We are wanded, patted and searched before every flight while almost any disgruntled man can buy an assault rifle and magazine clips at Walmart. Hopefully, our elected leaders will soon care about the safety of ordinary citizens and enact common-sense gun laws.

Who will be the drum majors for justice and peace today? Since Congress refuses to take the lead, today’s drum majors will be those who are fed up with hate getting more publicity than love. They will be the small-business owners who are tired of their businesses being robbed by gun-wielding thugs. Today’s drum majors are parents who want a better world for their children. Our children are leading the way for peace and justice as they teach this nation it is OK to love whomever you want, regardless of gender.

We live in a global village, and the quest for freedom is as much spiritual as it is political. Our faith teaches us that we are all created in the image of a magnificent God. For the sake of the planet, we must learn to get along.

If you have not decided how you will honor this great American who gave his life for peace and justice, instead of dashing to the mall or the slopes, let me recommend you start by reading his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. You can easily find it online.

Dr. King’s dream has yet to be realized. We still long for the day when black, brown, white, rich and poor will be treated justly. The dream is not dead. I know it lives in me; I hope it dwells in you too.

The Rev. Patricia L. Hunter is an associate in ministry at Mount Zion Baptist Church and senior benefits consultant for American Baptist Churches in the USA. Readers may send feedback to

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