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Newsmax Exclusive: Rep. Dave Brat on Why MLK's Message Still Matters

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Washington, January 19, 2017 | comments

This op-ed was posted in Newsmax.

I have long admired the work and writings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He inspired generations with his message of freedom and gave voice to millions of Americans that had been unjustly denied their God-given natural and Constitutional rights.

Dr. King's legacy shows it is possible to fundamentally transform a country – not through government regulations – but through the hearts and minds of the people. This work never ends.

His words and actions serve as an ever-present reminder each and every individual American is the greatest gift our country has to offer.

We share a tradition as Americans, as well as the freedom to disagree. When we understand our shared history and that our freedoms are derived from God-given natural rights, it becomes easier to navigate the political divisions that may currently divide us.

And so while many of us weighed in with short positive messages on Martin Luther King Day, I think it is important to add the full context behind such a great man – and that context is theological.

Dr. King understood this.

"God is not interested in the freedom of black men or brown men or yellow men," King said. "God is interested in the freedom of the whole human race, the creation of a society where every man will respect the dignity and worth of personality."

King's Ph.D. in Protestant theology greatly influenced his thoughts and writings, and his speeches were imbued with the Hebrew and Greek scriptures he had intensely internalized.

"There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus," he invoked and inspired in his "I Have a Dream" speech.

I share with King a common vision of our nation united, borne from Christian love and responsibility. The vast majority of the U.S. finds themselves situated either formally or informally in this Judeo-Christian tradition and our founding documents are all grounded in the Judeo-Christian heritage.

Our founding documents do not establish a particular religion, but they are built entirely on this foundation which asserts our rights come from a transcendent Judeo-Christian God. Our political freedoms were not free. There is no cheap grace. This progress came through centuries of long and hard-fought wars to protect the freedom of conscience required to live out this faith.

King was not interested in dividing the nation, but in uniting it in love and a sense of common purpose and history. He knew "hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."

King was a warrior who fought against injustice in his time. Today, we have come a long way on racial equality, but injustice persists. Middle-class wages have remained stagnant for 30 years. Inner-city crime rates and educational attainment levels are way off track.

Our K-12 education system is failing our kids; they are not being taught about business or ethics or about the Judeo-Christian tradition. Families have been decimated, and criminal justice is now under assault in every direction. Something is very wrong.

Globally, the U.S. needs to return to a foreign policy that emphasizes justice. In the west, we have a tradition of just war that originated in 400 A.D. in Africa by Saint Augustine. He emphasized that there were four criteria a country should examine before going to war. And most importantly he noted that a just war can and should be sought to defend the innocent who have no defense. Today we see great injustice occurring around. It would be wise for the U.S. to think clearly and soberly about its commitments abroad and whether we are following the just war theory, or for that matter any theory at all.

Today we see great injustice occurring around the world, including in Syria and the Philippines. It would be wise for the U.S. to think clearly and soberly about its commitments abroad and whether we are following the just-war theory, or for that matter, any theory at all.

When it comes to economic justice, one can look to John Rawls and his theory of justice for an ambitious state-led project, or one can look to Robert Nozick for a very libertarian sketch of what justice looks like. It is important to note both of these scholars on justice are from Harvard, and they are both Kantian; and so this is part of the challenge we face: whose justice, which justice?

Our justice tradition is torn because the Judeo-Christian tradition has been torn apart. Martin Luther King was one of the last great writers in the Western tradition who united both theology and justice in a narrative that could be understood by all.

Who can we name today that stands in this line of greatness and has the full power of this tradition at their call? Who is our current famous philosopher of justice?

Unfortunately, our own constitutional understanding of this issue has been so warped we find ourselves at a dead end. We cannot establish a religion, but we must establish rights that appear from somewhere without naming a religion as foundation. No alternative framework seems remotely available. Name it if you can.

The original rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness have now been eclipsed by an infinite list of rights with no end and also with no theoretical foundation. The rights do not seem to have any corresponding responsibilities attached.

The federal state is now assumed to be the arbiter of these matters instead of the bulwark against encroachment. Freedom is under attack at every turn when a sizable portion of your income can be taken away from you by the state's monopoly on coercion, for the sake of another person's secular interpretation of the common good.

The common good of course requires a historical context and a community to define that context, and this project sadly seems to have been left behind.

In Martin Luther King's universe, justice was God's justice and that makes all the difference in the end. What is the ultimate authority for justice? What is the ultimate power that stands behind justice: God or the state?

Dr. King believed education taught critical thinking and character, and it would be essential to our nation. This century, as we move forward and navigate through our own difficult times, we should always remember his immortal words "the arc of the moral universe . . . bends towards justice."

This is a faith claim, and such a faith claim always comes from a greater tradition of which it is a part. We should all renew ourselves to the educational project which Martin Luther King held so dear so this great rights tradition does not come to an end.

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