Martin Luther King Jr. and the Courage to Be Misunderstood


A few years ago my wife and I spent a day in Atlanta with Alveda King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s niece. During our time there we visited Ebenezer Baptist Church, which had been restored to its appearance during the civil-rights struggles of the 1960s.

Following that, we walked down the street to the birth home of King and his brother, Alveda’s father, A.D. King.

As we toured the building, a docent told us stories about the boys growing up: what kind of parents they had, how the boys hated their piano lessons, how they had to recite scripture verses before they were allowed to sit for dinner.

It was a tremendous time and provided some helpful context for understanding the King brothers’ later involvement in civil-rights work. Of the many things that stuck out, perhaps the most immediately meaningful hit me as we were leaving—the docent was a federal park ranger.

Let’s be clear about the significance of that: When he was alive, Martin Luther King Jr. was under federal surveillance. Now his childhood home is a federal park. A lot can change in a generation.

The courage to be misunderstood

There’s an important lesson there. The present is so foggy, it’s tempting to project into the future for some kind of certainty. That’s particularly true if we live in trying times—times of difficulty in our families or businesses, times of testing in our churches or communities.

If we take a stand, how will it be received? If we press forward, what will they think? But it’s useless to judge our current actions based on how we hope or fear they will be understood in the future.

There’s no use measuring today by tomorrow. It’s an imaginary reference point. There’s only doing the right thing in the slender slice of time available right now. If we get that wrong, we’re likely to make the wrong decisions anyway.

Much of life involves mustering the courage to be misunderstood. Dr. King’s life teaches that lesson, and the church gives us many other examples as well.

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SOURCE: Ancient Faith
Joel J. Miller is the author of four books. Find out more about him and his work here. You can also find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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