Washington (BWA)--Baptists are being encouraged to celebrate the anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr. and to honor his prophetic legacy.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was inaugurated by the United States in 1983 and is observed on the third Monday of January each year, which is close to the time of King's birthday, January 15. The 2011 observance will be on January 17.
In 1993, the General Council of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe, passed a resolution that called on Baptists around the world to celebrate King's anniversary and to renew the commitment to struggle nonviolently for justice and peace.
In 1999, the BWA Special Commission on Baptists against Racism and Ethnic Conflict promoted the International Summit of Baptists Against Racism at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, in Atlanta, Georgia, the church where King was raised and ordained to the Christian ministry.
King stands among the most influential Christian leaders of the contemporary world. A civil rights leader and a public theologian, he saw himself first and foremost as a Baptist Christian minister trying to save the soul of his nation. But his legacy and influence went far beyond the United States and the Christian church, as exemplified by the Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded to him in 1964.
His life and influence cannot be limited in terms of race, nationality or faith. They have been appropriated by many people in different parts of the world, inspiring other minority and under-represented groups to apply the principles of civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance to their own context. In the words of African American theologian James Cone, King belongs to the world, particularly "to the world of the poor and disinherited."
King's life and thinking continue to be relevant for all Christians trying to make a difference in the world today. By relating his cause for civil rights in the US with the global struggles for social and racial justice, he became the champion of those seeking dramatic changes in living conditions for the masses. Seeing all life on earth as intertwined, he was able to affirm the indivisibleness of justice: "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
King saw racism, poverty and militarism as the common axis of structural evil oppressing not only African Americans in the US, but poorer populations all over the world. He called poverty a curse that has no justification in our age, comparing its moral impact to the cruelty of cannibalism. He not only spoke against the evil of racism and called for the end of racial segregation, he also called for the immediate abolition of poverty. He spoke about the need for a "divine dissatisfaction" against "the tragic walls that separate rich and poor, and that push people to live in the indecent and unsanitary conditions of the slums."
King based his hope for the ultimate outcome of this struggle in his biblically grounded belief. Inspired by the witness of Martin Luther King, Jr. to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the BWA encourages Baptists around the world to renew their determination to continue to work tirelessly for peace and justice, and to contribute to the formation of a more humane world.