Martin Luther King: Calling and Conviction

Martin Luther King: Calling and Conviction

Today in the United States
is Martin Luther King Day, and this month I want to share with you what I
believe were the most important factors in making him such an influential


Last year I read “Let The
Trumpet Sound,” Stephen Oates’ excellent biography of the famed Civil Rights
leader which I highly recommend to any of you who are interested in learning
more about Dr. King. He was of course, a
gifted academic and a talented orator. He graduated from high school and entered college after eleventh grade. That same year he won a prize for a speech he
gave on “The Negro and the Constitution,” at a competition sponsored by the
Elks. He graduated from seminary with
honors and won the preaching award.  But there are many gifted people who have
never had the kind of impact he had. Gifts are important and necessary for great leadership, but they are insufficient
without an inner fuel to drive them. In
King we saw that  his “Calling" and
“Conviction” played the most important roles in making him a great leader.


He grew up in segregation and
he hated it. He found the duplicity of a
segregated society intolerable and “escaped” the south to attend seminary in
the north. In the north he experienced
more equality under the law, but still saw economic segregation that was just
as offensive to him.  He didn’t want to
return to the south, but a strong sense of calling and destiny led him back,
and so he returned home to be a pastor in Montgomery, Alabama. Throughout
his life he was aware that his days were to be spent for a greater cause than
his own wants and desires. He lived with
the daily burden that his life was meant for something greater than himself or
his family. It was that sense of calling
and “destiny” that compelled him to continue in the struggle when it became so
difficult, and that same sense of destiny that gave him the security to not
fear any man or even death.


Martin Luther King was also a
man of deep convictions and he had two strong convictions that guided his
entire life. The first was “equality for
all,” and the second was “non violence.” It was those convictions – formed by
his religious faith – that fueled his decision making and his resolve to change
the world. It was also those convictions
that gave him great enemies.


Great leaders always have
great enemies and King had enemies
everywhere. He had the obvious enemies
he confronted on the streets of Southern cities and in the courthouses of
Southern legal systems. In addition to
those local enemies he had national enemies such as J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI
who monitored his every move and plotted to discredit and destroy him. He even had enemies within the Civil Rights
struggle. There were those who opposed
his conviction for non-violence, and those who wanted to wrest power from him.
When King spoke out against the war in Vietnam Lyndon Johnson became an enemy,
and some of his former supporters left him. Great leaders always have great enemies. Jesus had enemies – the right enemies – and every great leader has
them. It’s good to have the right
enemies, and the ability to deal with ones’ enemies rest on the foundation of
ones’ calling and conviction.


Through it all, what made him
a great leader was his ability to stay focused on his call and conviction. When he was told to be quiet about the war in Vietnam because it was hurting his influence in the cause for Civil Rights he responded
that it was the same conviction in him that drove both, and to silence one was
to silence both. He would not acquiesce
to those who wanted to separate the man of influence from the man of


In December of 1955 he helped
organize the bus boycott of Montgomery, Alabama, which in many ways became
the beginning of the Civil Right movement. From Oates’ book. “On the night
of January 30th, the very date Gandhi was assassinated, King was
speaking at a mass meeting when he received the dreadful news that his house
had been bombed. He sped home in a
strange calm. A crowd of Negroes surged
about the parsonage, white police trying to hold them back. The bomb had exploded on the porch, breaking
it in two and showering the living room with broken glass.”


“Outside the crowd was
getting out of control. A Negro man
confronted a policeman: “You got your thirty-eight, and I got mind. Let’s shoot it out.” Even Negro boys were armed with broken
bottles, and there were jeers at the cops. “Let us see Reverend King,” a woman
cried out. King stepped out onto the
shattered porch, which still smelled of dynamite fumes, and surveyed his angry
brothers and sisters on the lawn and in the street beyond. “He held up his hand,” an observer said, “and
they were suddenly silent…absolutely still.”


“My wife and baby are all
right,” he said. “I want you to go home
and put down your weapons. We cannot
solve this problem through retaliatory violence… We must love our white
brothers, no matter what they do to us. We must make them know that we love them. Jesus still cries out across the centuries,
‘Love your enemies.’ This is what we
must live by. We must meet hate with


I cannot imagine myself in
the same scenario.  Can you?  I cannot imagine my house being bombed with my
family inside, and still having the strength of my convictions to preach peace
when violence would be so understandable. Yet, great leaders have the ability to live their convictions in every
circumstance – particularly the most difficult ones. It is from their calling and conviction that
they find the strength to confront their enemies, and lead the world to greater


“Calling” and “Conviction”
are the two most important elements of any leader. The “calling” draws you forward to that which
you can see and dream of, and the “conviction” pushes you onward, compelling
you to never turn back. Martin Luther
King was a man who knew his dreams were anchored in his convictions and
inspired by his calling. He knew who he
was, and could be it.



“We have learned to swim the seas like fish, and fly
the skies like birds, but we have not learned to walk the earth like
brothers.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


About the author / bobperkins

Latest comments

  • Bill Hueter
    January 15, 2007 at 2:28 pm Reply

    What a poignant quote:
    “We have learned to swim the seas like fish, and fly the skies like birds, but we have not learned to walk the earth like brothers.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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