Today is Martin Luther King Jr Day. It is a national holiday, signed into law by President Reagan in 1983 to celebrate the life and work of the slain civil rights leader. The holiday is observed on the third Monday of January, but today it actually falls on his birthday, January 15.
While King’s legacy is his fight for justice, equality, and peace through non-violent resistance, he preached personal accountability, not only to his African American brothers and sisters but to all people.
His “I Have a Dream” speech is his most famous and often quoted, but consider these quotes that speak to accountability for our attitudes and actions.
“You are not only responsible for what you say, but also for what you do not say.”
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent on the things that matter.”
“There comes a time when a person must take a position that is never safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right.”
“Every person must stand up and be accountable, but responsible for their actions.”
No doubt accountability and responsibility were at the heart of King’s life, teaching and civil rights work based on his Biblical values and religious background as a Baptist minister. It is ironic that in the past 50 years since King’s assassination that America has grown more secular and moved farther away from the spiritual principles he espoused.
The call for accountability not only to his own people but to politicians and all citizens seems to be something lost on our culture today. In an age of finger-pointing, blaming others, and “passing the buck,” we need a return to personal responsibility and accountability.
The chaos of our culture may make us feel as it there is little we can do to make a difference, like Dr. King. However, we can each be responsible for the role and relationship in which we find ourselves.
Husbands and wives can be responsible to one another to be loving, faithful and committed to their vows (Eph 5:22-33). It takes personal accountability to build an intimate relationship that honors both your spouse and the Lord.
Parents can be responsible for nurturing, training and teaching their children (Eph 6:4). Be accountable to them. And to God for their education and spiritual guidance.
As citizens, we can each be responsible to obey the laws, pay our taxes, and pray for our leaders. (Rom. 13:1-17). If I break the law, I’m held accountable. As syndicated columnist John Leo once wrote, “You can’t run a society or cope with its problems if people are not held accountable for what they do.”
Preachers, Pastors, and religious teachers are commanded “preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:1-2), “watch for souls” (Heb 13:17), and “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). We are all personally accountable for fulfilling the responsibilities of our ministry, to one another and ultimately to the Lord.
All of us have responsibilities in life. And we are accountable to someone to fulfill them. But there is this indisputable fact. We all have God-given responsibilities. And the Bible promises this: “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ…So then each of us shall give account of himself to God (Rom 14:10-12).
Each of us being responsible and accountable can add up to be making a big difference in our communities, churches and ultimately the world in which we love.
As Dr. King once said, “The time is always right to do the right thing.”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman