During the past 50 years of American history, much has been gained and much has been lost. I rejoice in the end of the segregationist practices Dr. King and many others fought so valiantly, and in the tremendous increase in opportunity for all Americans, regardless of race or gender. But sadly, greater opportunity for African Americans has not necessarily been associated with greater dignity and self-reliance. While some in our community have achieved tremendous success — rising to the top of every imaginable industry — a large segment has become mired in a web of failing schools and the perverse incentives that govern various forms of public assistance.
My dream is that Americans of all races would restore the strength of our families and our institutions of faith, and in doing so, rebuild our communities. I dream that Americans of all races would reject government interference in entrepreneurial initiative and encroachment on the God-ordained authority of the family. While Dr. King had higher hopes for the positive effects of government intervention than I, he would have certainly agreed that it should never trespass on the mission of the Church. And he would have surely shared the vision of the prophet Jeremiah: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jer. 29:5-7).
— Dean Nelson is chairman of the Frederick Douglass Foundation. The Coalition of African American Pastors (CAAP) will be hosting its Eighth Annual Leadership Conference with the Frederick Douglass Foundation on October 8-11, 2013, at the Heritage Foundation.
Two score and ten years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. electrified America with his “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered from the Lincoln Memorial one century after Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. One reason for the immediate, and enduring, success of the speech is the way that King wrapped his call for action within a fundamentally conservative idiom, drawing upon the deepest elements of American identity: Sacred Scripture, patriotic songs, history, geography, and above all the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, which King quotes more often in his speeches and writings than any other text except the Bible.
This is especially true of King’s Dream itself, which was not intended to be an idiosyncratic fantasy but rather an evocative expression of the fundamental principles of the American political order. “It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream,” King said, “that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed — we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
Unfortunately, King’s conservative Dream has been hijacked by the Left to promote causes King never would have dreamed of supporting, including the legal rights to abortion and same-sex “marriage.” King rightly saw that the principles of the Declaration of Independence are rooted in “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God,” and not in the repudiation of Nature and God for the sake of radical autonomy and equality. In severing the essential link in America’s founding principles between law and its trans-political ground in Nature and God, the American Left is making the “rough places plain,” not for the realization of King’s Dream, but for a statist Nightmare.
America does not need any new dreams or dreamers, as the years of “Hope” and “Change” make clear. America’s Founding Dream, which is King’s Dream, remains “the last best hope of earth.” But unless this Dream is revitalized in the hearts and minds of Americans, it shall, like Prospero’s magnificent pageant in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, “dissolve” and “leave not a rack behind.”
As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the media have been focusing intensely on the “I Have A Dream” speech. One point that is overlooked in the coverage is the fact that Dr. King spoke from an uncompromising Biblical worldview.
His role as an active member of the clergy should not be lost on modern audiences. Months before he addressed the entire world from the National Mall, he wrote an open letter to eight clergy from a Birmingham jail. In that letter, he admonished clergy for sitting on the sidelines as the most important cultural issues of the day took center stage. Today, there are clergy who fear diminishing membership numbers and the political-correctness police — so they remain silent on the most important cultural issues of the day: abortion, same-sex marriage, gun control, illegal immigration, out-of-wedlock-birth rates, black-on-black and black-on-white crime. I believe that if Dr. King were dreaming today, he would again recognize the “fierce urgency of now” and encourage his fellow clergy to have courage and speak out with Biblical truth.