Martin Luther King on being a transformed nonconformist

“Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

| Romans 12.2

“‘Do not conform’ is difficult advice in a generation when crowd pressures have unconsciously conditioned our minds and feet to move to the rhythmic drumbeat of the status quo.  Many voices and forces urge us to choose the path of least resistance and bid us never to fight for an unpopular cause and never to be found in a pathetic minority of two or three. …

In spite of the prevailing tendency to conform, we, as Christians, have a mandate to be nonconformists.  The Apostle Paul, who knew the inner realities of the Christian faith counseled, ‘Be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.’  We are called to be people of conviction, not conformity; of moral nobility not social respectability.  We are commanded to live differently and according to a higher loyalty. …

This command not to conform comes, not only from Paul, but also from our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, the world’s most dedicated nonconformist, whose ethical nonconformity still challenges the conscience of mankind.

When an affluent society would coax us to believe that happiness consists in the size of our automobiles, the impressiveness of our homes, and the expensiveness of our clothes, Jesus reminds us, ‘A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of things which he possesseth.’

When we would yield to the temptation of the world rife with sexual promiscuity and gone wild with the philosophy of self- expression, Jesus tells us that ‘whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.’

When we refuse to suffer for righteousness and choose to follow the path of comfort rather than conviction, we hear Jesus say, ‘Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’

When in our spiritual pride we boast of having reached the peak of moral excellence, Jesus warns, ‘The publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.’

When we, through compassionless detachment and arrogant individualism, fail to respond to the needs of he underprivileged, the Master says, ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it to me.’

When we allow the spark of revenge in our souls to flame up into hate toward our enemies, Jesus teaches, ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.’

Everywhere and at all times, the love ethic of Jesus is a radiant light revealing the ugliness of our stale conformity. …

Nowhere is the tragic tendency to conform more evident than in the church, the institution which has often served to crystallize, conserve and even bless the patterns of majority opinion.  The erstwhile sanction by the church of slavery, racial segregation, war and economic exploitation is testimony to the fact that the church has hearkened more to the authority of the world than to the authority of God.  Called to be the moral guardian of the community, the church at times has preserved that which is immoral and unethical.  Called to combat social evils, it has remained silent behind stained- glass windows.  Called to lead men on the highway of brotherhood and to summon them to rise above the narrow confines of race and class, it has enunciated and practiced racial exclusiveness.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, (New York, NY: Harper & Row Publishers, 1963), 8-10, 11.

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