Although both men ended up clashing with the authorities for their actions and both men continue to inspire, encourage and challenge people today with their words and actions, the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr is not the same person as Martin Luther.
The Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr was a 20th century African-American, Baptist minister who came to reject the notion that people should be segregated or judge by their ethnicity as was happening in the Southern states of America. Luther was a 16th century German, Roman Catholic priest who came to reject the notion that people could earn God’s grace and mercy through indulgences which was growing in popularity at the time.
The Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr famously had a dream (prophetic vision from God), whilst Martin Luther had an assignment – 95 Theses.
Today 31st October is Reformation Day, the day Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg Castle church. Or as we would say today, uploaded his assignment onto Moodle, or handed in his essay. Okay he wasn’t exactly a student, but nailing a paper to the door wasn’t in itself the act of defiance that it might be today. Up until recently eviction notices were nailed to doors, a seemingly heartless, violent act of nails through papers, through hearts. Almost crucifying those who would have to leave their homes. No, Luther’s action wasn’t like that. He was adding his voice to the voice of others, who also may have nailed their documents to the door. Think of it like Post It notes what won’t blow away in the wind. “I’ve an idea” BANG!
These days we tend to focus on delivery and call it revolution. But for Luther, the way he delivered his document was not the revolution. His God-inspired ideas written as words on paper are the reason he ended up in front of a churchy tribunal. Ideas are the reason he is still so influential.
People don’t tend to go around nailing documents to doors. But many worship in Lutheran and other Protestant churches. And thanks to other Reformers like Luther [Reformers were just people who wanted to change the way the church was going and try to bring it back to the Bible and to God – you can argue how successful they were but that was their heart and hope], many people within the Roman Catholic church and outside of the Roman Catholic church seek God, read the Bible in our own languages, sing hymns in our own languages to popular folk tunes, and are able to ask questions.
Today 31st October is also the final day of Black History Month in the UK. I know they have been talking about this in the schools, but when I asked a local high schooler what they learned, she said they learned about Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Which being an American myself, I thought great! But then I thought, no, this is the UK. I asked the high schooler if they had learned about any important British figures (eager to learn myself, you see!) but was told no. I love Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr, but I refuse to believe that no one notable has lived on these islands worthy of study.
I had a similar situation at my theological school, when we discussed black theology. All but one of the theologians we discussed were not from the UK.
I clearly need educating on the Black and Minority Ethnic communities’ contributions to UK history and culture, as do local high schoolers. If you are like me, a good start can be found here: http://www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk/
Does this relate to Martin Luther and Reformation Day? Yes it does. All it takes sometimes is for one person to upload one document with some ideas and people are inspired to see things differently.
“Hey, I’ve an idea” CLICK!