“Now let me say that the next thing we must be concerned about if we are to have peace on earth and goodwill toward men,” Martin Luther King, Jr. once said in a sermon, “is the nonviolent affirmation of the sacredness of all of human life.” This argument places the divine origin of human life at the center of the conversation over human equality. That’s because the Brotherhood of Man is dependent upon the Fatherhood of God. Reject the latter and you erode the foundation for the former.

Historian Richard Wills substantiates this claim in his Oxford University Press book Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Image of God in which he argues, “Martin Luther King Jr.’s use of Imago Dei language existed on the edge of a historical dialogue and quest for human civil rights . . .” Wills says that King’s use of the theological principle that humans are created in the Image of God and endowed with intrinsic worth was his “primary appeal for civil rights.”

On a day when many remember King’s heroism we do well to also remember his thesis.

King contrasted the Judeo-Christian understanding of human worth with a secular-Darwinian model, “Man is more than a tiny vagary of whirling electrons or a wisp of smoke from a limitless smoldering. Man is a child of God, made in His image, and therefore must be respected as such.” King impressed upon our nation’s conscience the principles upon which it was founded that “all men are created equal”really means “all men” and “created” really means “created.”

This principle, if true, as it surely is, cannot be selectively applied or systematically denied. If the biblical depiction of man is true, as indeed it is, it is true for all. Because God is our father we are all brothers. The monument to Martin Luther King Jr. stands in Washington D.C. as a reminder of a man who preached a doctrine strong enough to sustain human values and powerful enough to fight back hate.

All quotes taken from Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Image of God

Image of Martin Luther King, Jr. from when he preached at Southern Seminary.