Ninety-two years ago, this January, Martin Luther King Junior was born. I remember his “I Have a Dream” speech and wonder what our country would look like if he had lived to shape that dream. Today as I watch our country split apart by violence, riots, buildings being looted and burned, our history being rewritten even to Lincoln’s statue being removed – Lincoln, another man whose life was cut short before his dream of freedom and equality for all was realized.
Today the fight is again about freedom and is pitting those who value freedom, the Constitution, and the acceptance of the inherent personal risks of that freedom against those who believe in the collective, a society in which citizens are promised work according to their abilities and rewards in accordance to their needs. This was Karl Marx’s dream described in his Communist Manifesto written with the help of Frederick Engels in 1848.
Martin Luther King recognized the allure of Marxism, a promise of a utopia on earth, a living Eden achievable through adherence to the Manifesto. He realized the trap of exchanging one slavery for another, to sell one’s soul short by exchanging God given rights for those awarded by the state. To that purpose he delivered a sermon “Can a Christian Be a Communist” delivered at Ebenezar Baptist Church September 30, 1962 in Atlanta Georgia. The full text of this document is available at the Martin Luther King Jr Papers project.
He gave three reasons why he felt obligated as a Christian Minister to address Communism. The first; more than a billion of the peoples of the world believe in communism and many of those people had accepted it as a new religion, and they were willing to surrender their total being to this system. It is a force so potent it could not be ignored. The second; Communism is the only serious rival of Christianity. No other conversant with the hard facts of modern life can deny the truth that Communism is Christianity’s most serious rival. The third reason is that it is unfair and certainly unscientific to condemn a system of thought without knowing what that system of thought says and without knowing why it is wrong and why it is evil. So, for these reasons, he choose to talk about this troubling issue.
The following is a summary of that sermon and is mostly in his words. How, then, is communism irreconcilable with Christianity? In the first place, it leaves out God and Jesus Christ. Communism is avowedly secularistic and materialist. Marx believed that the whole of human history moved on, driven by economic forces. This was his idea. There was no place in that system for God. From that moment on, communism became an atheistic system. And to this very day it is atheistic so no Christian can be a communist because communism leaves out God. It regards religion historically as an instrument serving the ends of exploiters. This is what communism teaches about religion. We disagree with this because we believe that history is moved not by economic forces but by spiritual forces. We believe that there is a God in this universe, a God who loves his children, and a God who works through history for the salvation of man. We can’t accept communism on that point.
A second reason that we can’t accept communism is that its methods are opposed to Christianity. Since for the communist there is no divine government or no absolute moral order, there are no fixed, immutable principles. So force, violence, murder, and lying are all justifiable means to bring about the millennial end. Lenin, said on one occasion, “We must be ready to employ trickery, deceit, and lawbreaking, withholding and concealing truth.” In communism the end justifies the means. We believe that there are certain moral principles in this universe that are eternal and absolute. We believe that there are some things right and there are some things wrong. It’s wrong to lie. It always has been wrong, and it always will be wrong. It’s wrong to hate. It always has been wrong, and it always will be wrong. Then we don’t believe that the end justifies the means if those means happen to be bad. The end is preexistent in the means. And so destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends. Immoral methods cannot achieve moral goals. And so we disagree with the ethical relativism of communism.
In the third place, we have to disagree with communism because the end of communism is the state. Marx says that while you are on the way to this classless society the state is the end. Man becomes only a means to that end. And if any man’s so-called rights or liberties stand in the way of that end, they are simply swept aside. And so in the communistic system, you do not have freedom of the press. You do not have freedom of speech. You do not have freedom of assembly. All of these things are under the scrutiny of the state. Whatever the Party says, that must be done. All of the freedoms that are dear to us are denied. Man has to be a servant, a dutiful and submissive servant of the state. The state is omnipotent and supreme. A man couldn’t make a speech against the Communist Party, he could not write a book in condemnation of the Party he could even be killed.
In closing Martin Luther King Jr said:
You died when you failed to stand up for something. You died when you failed to give yourself to some great principle. You died when you refused to stand up against segregation. You died when you refused to stand up against some great evil of society. Somebody’s calling us this morning, saying “Go preach my gospel”. If we will do this, we will make this old world a new world. We won’t have to worry about communism. The only way that we can defeat communism is to get a better idea, and we have it in our democracy, we have it in our Christianity, and if we will live by it, we won’t have to worry about communism. And men the world over will join hands as brothers, and they will walk this earth knowing that we are all God’s children. “The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and Christ. And He shall reign forever and ever. Hallelujah (Yeah), hallelujah!”Martin Luther King Jr
Joe Grant, Wiscasset