In January of 1955, in a speech titled “A Realistic Approach to Progress in Race Relations” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. boldly declared to an audience that included many clergy, “You must do more than pray and read the Bible” in order to destroy racism and segregation, “you must do something about it."
He also wrote, "How often are our lives characterized by a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds! We talk eloquently about our commitment to the principles of Christianity, and yet our lives are saturated with the practices of paganism…This strange dichotomy, this agonizing gulf between the ought and the is, represents the tragic theme of man’s earthly pilgrimage" (Strength to Love 40).
Dr. King famously over and over called the church to truly walk in the footsteps of the one whom we claim to follow, Jesus. He admonished that we must follow his example of extravagant love not only when it is convenient and confortable. Our lives are to be characterized by this love even when it is difficult and brings great discomfort. This is the radical call of the Christ.
As we read in 1 John, "By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says, "I abide in him," ought to walk just as he walked. Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word that you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new commandment that is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says, "I am in the light," while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness" (1 John 2:5-11).
What would it look like if we were to truly walk in the footsteps of Jesus, the Christ? What would happen if the the "agonizing gulf between the ought and the is" where closed?
It is a question Dr. King asked long ago and is a question with which we must still wrestle.