As a child, Martin Luther King, Jr. had something special that set the stage for his legacy: a father who mentored him. He wasn't a perfect dad, but he was a dad who always showed up.
It was Martin Luther King, Sr., a beloved pastor in Atlanta, who taught his son not only to stand against the system of hate surrounding them, but also to forgive the people caught up in it. His father taught him to live as a man of character, love and courage. His father taught him never to let go of the dream of freedom. His father knew his most important ministry was in his own home, and that focus changed the history of the world.
Martin, as a young man, watched his father stand up to institutional injustice, watched him speak against the embedded behaviors of racism and intolerance, and walked with his father through the persecution and dangers of fighting for freedom. He relayed the story of his father telling a policeman who stopped them: “The policeman called my dad ‘boy.’ My father pointed to me and told him, ‘This is a boy. I'm a man, and until you call me one, I will not listen to you.’”
Martin Luther King, Jr. had a devoted father who was a man of deep convictions, faith and hope. Many young men in the world today do not.
Fatherlessness is at an all-time high, over twenty million children in the U.S. wake up every morning without a father in their life. Fatherlessness is the leading indicator of poverty, drug abuse, racism, suicide and behavioral issues in every region of the U.S and in every part of the world. It has shredded our culture and the cultural ties that have long held us together, especially faith.
The tragic result of fatherlessness is that it frequently produces men who don’t know how to parent a child, men who don’t become mature or maintain a faithful character, and men who reproduce a generational dysfunction. If fatherlessness was classified as a disease, it would be a global and nationwide emergency.
Our path, especially on the special day honoring Dr. King, Jr., must lead us to change. The hearts of men must change: from fear to faith, from hate to love, from accusation to reconciliation, and away from fatherlessness. Change starts in the heart of a man and is exhibited in the actions of the hands of a man.
My father, Rev. Ed Cole, stood with black pastors in the 1950’s to protest city laws. As a youngster traveling with my family through the South in the early sixties, we bypassed any establishment with a sign excluding “coloreds.” At one restaurant, we didn’t see the sign until we were on the front steps. Dad gave a short lecture and we turned around. Two people on the steps left also, out of respect. My father simply said, “If they’re not welcome, we’re not welcome.” That’s how I grew up. That’s how I was mentored.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we must not be unaware or silent of the harsh realities of our world. We are mandated to respond. If racism is from hell, our response must be from heaven. The Bible teaches us, “We are ministers of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5). Reconciliation is the moral opposite of accusation. It’s easy to throw around accusations, it takes purposeful work to reconcile people to truth, to justice, to love. But, that’s our calling. Our path must lead us to a change of heart. From fear to faith, from hate to love, from accusation to reconciliation.
We were recently in Berlin, a wonderful city with a difficult past. In Berlin, it is against the law even to make a Nazi salute. You can be arrested. Is it because of politics? Bad manners? No. It’s because the Nazi salute represents evil. The people of Berlin have seen the face of evil, survived the lies of evil, and today they will not tolerate it. Neither should we.
There really is only one answer. Jesus. Jesus in the hearts of men. Jesus on every street, in every heart. People who choose love will win, whatever the cost. As followers of Jesus Christ, we must speak up. We must not be silent. The Word of God must be our centering point. We must love, help, give, comfort, make wrongs right, protect others, love people and be the balm of Gilead to a hurting world. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Violence is immoral as it thrives on hatred rather than love.”
Christ was crucified. His love paid the price. It is not our job to crucify others, but to love others. God gave us a clear path, “Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows” (Isaiah 1).
At CMN for over forty years we have been dedicated to the dignity of man. The reconciliation of mankind to Christ. A vision of strong men, strong families, and strong churches.
Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said: “I think that my strong determination for justice comes from the very strong, dynamic personality of my father... I have rarely ever met a person more fearless and courageous than my father... The thing that I admire most about my dad is his genuine Christian character. He is a man of real integrity, deeply committed to moral and ethical principles.”
We can no longer be unaware or silent about fatherlessness and its impact on our culture. We must work to reconcile men to truth, to justice, and to love, help, give, comfort, make wrongs right, protect others and be the balm of Gilead to a hurting world.
That’s what Martin Luther King, Sr. taught his son – and that father’s life and words changed the future of the world. What a man does in life is history, but what he puts into motion becomes a legacy. Today, in his son Martin Luther King, Jr., we honor the legacy of a dad.