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Though I do “get” the context of what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was saying in his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, I must say that I have never truly been a proponent or advocate of it, primarily because it is a message which implies that we, as human beings, inherently possess the ability to somehow transform ourselves into the kind of people who value character over color (as opposed to the other way around.)
The premise of Dr. King’s message is well-intended, no doubt; however, nearly 50 years later, it is quite evident that the paradigm about which he was so passionately concerned – and rightly so – has not changed much. The reason for this is because “racial progress”, a label which is often thrown around these days in assessing the state of race relations in America and the degree to which we are all “coming together as one people”, is not measured on a continuum, but on a condition. The condition of the heart, that is.
To the extent that I, as a human being, ascribe value to a person based on character and not color, is not a matter of the turning over of the pages on a calendar, but of a change of heart. This is why it has always bothered me when someone says, “It’s 2012. You would think that things would be different now.”
You see, on its own, the passage of time has absolutely nothing to do with it. To think that time, in and of itself, can influence the kind of change about which Dr. King was speaking, is to eliminate the role the human heart plays in effecting that kind of change in a tangible way. In other words, time alone is of no consequence or benefit without the presence of a secondary variable working simultaneously in the heart of the person to bring about or effectuate that change.
This is exactly why some racists will die racist. They have time, yes, but their heart was never changed over the course of that time.
Remember, what makes a dream a dream to begin with is it is an image which is not based in present reality (for better or worse), and the reality for you and me is that, contrary to popular opinion, we do not inherently possess nor have we ever possessed the wherewithal to treat one another in the terms expressed in Dr. King’s “Dream” speech.
In Genesis 8:21, the Bible tells us that “…the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” Likewise, Luke 6:45 says of mankind, “…for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” Conversely, Jeremiah 17:9 states emphatically and rhetorically, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?”
So, as you can see, the biblical paradigm is quite different from that of the world in that there is an emphasis placed on the condition of the heart above all else.
What distinguishes Dr. King’s dream from those of our own that we might wish to see come to fruition, such as completing a degree or traveling around the world, is that his is one that is essentially spiritual in nature, not material; and, as such, it is totally beyond our human capacity to bring to pass. There is no list of “do’s” and “don’ts” to check off in measuring to what extent such a dream has been manifested as real in our lives so as to declare one’s self to not be racist.
Apart from the transforming power of the Gospel upon the heart of a person, Dr. King’s dream will continue to be just that – a dream. In fact, it is the sole reason why his dream remains so today – because there are still human hearts upon which the Gospel of Christ has yet to be applied in a transformative way. And in that sense, Jesus Christ had this “dream” long before Dr. King did, because it is He who first encouraged us to “love one another” (John 13:34) which, at its core, is what Dr. King’s message was all about.
In closing, please understand that this commentary is in no way meant to disparage or detract from the legacy of Dr. King or that of his most well-renown and widely-lauded message of a dream of societal oneness and equality based on character and not color. However, the reality is that his message still falls short in the sense that it is an “outside-in” message of man-enabled or man-induced change, when the true solution is “inside-out”, as enabled and induced by the Spirit of God in and through the heart of each individual.