Like January 7, 2018, fifty years ago today — January 7, 1968 — was a Sunday. And Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. He asked the congregation, “What are your New Year’s resolutions?”1All citations are from Martin Luther King Jr., “What are Your New Year’s Resolutions?” 1/7/1968, King Library, (Box 13) p. 9, 10-11. Across the nation, pastors were probably asking their congregations the same question. As a Christian pastor should, King called his congregants to resolve to be better Christians. But here is where he parted ways with so much of what passes for Christianity in 1968 and today: Dr. King preached, “I wish today that Christians would stop talking so much about religion and start doing something about it.” He joined the growing call for young men to resist the draft to the war in Vietnam, saying, “if you feel it in your heart that this war is wrong, unjust and objectionable, don’t go and fight in it. Follow the path of Jesus Christ.”

The Christianity King called for in 1968 was the faith of Jesus and the early Jesus followers: “They stood up before Caesar, and Caesar’s household, and said, ‘we aren’t going that way.’” The Bible is full of stories of people resolving to be faithful to a God who loves all people instead of a Caesar who loves only himself and his household. And to be faithful to that God — rejecting a Caesar who claimed to be god — is to seek a radically different economy. King preached, “In God’s economy, the man who lives in the slum, and in the alley, is as significant as Henry Ford or John Rockefeller. And when we see this, we love and we are concerned about the least of these God’s children.”

I made my resolution. I’m going to keep working for that day, when men will beat their sword into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

As it was fifty years ago, in 2018 we too often find Christianity blessing Caesar, Caesar’s wars and Caesar’s economy. It rings no less true today that “the problem is that the church has sanctioned every evil in the world. Whether it’s racism, or whether it’s the evils of monopoly-capitalism, or whether it’s the evils of militarism. And this is why these things continue to exist in the world today.” And so King told his congregation, “I made my resolution. I’m going to keep working for that day, when men will beat their sword into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.”

Just a month earlier he had announced that 1968 would bring a new campaign. The poor from across the US — white, black and brown — would come together as never before in history to demand an end to poverty, racism and war. King would spend the last four months of his life seeking out leaders from the many front line fights against poverty — welfare rights, treaty rights, labor rights, housing rights, health care rights — and together they would attempt to break the isolation of divided struggles so that they could become a revolutionary force for social transformation.

We are quickly moving towards the fiftieth anniversary of King’s assassination. The call to remember and emulate him will ring far and wide. He called us to resist evil in the world, to say no to Caesar, to end war and to transform economies that value any one life more than any other. For those who are Christian, it is a call in this New Year to resolve to be a better Christian.

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