Martin Luther King, Jr. was fond of saying that the “arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” This was no thin, pragmatic account of rights-based egalitarian liberalism, says Derek Rishmawy, but rather a philosophically and theologically thick appeal to a divinely ordered and sustained cosmos.
As Rishmawy notes, it is simply impossible to separate King’s denunciation of racism and segregation from his Christian confession and theological convictions about the nature of the universe:
For King, segregation is not only sociologically suicidal but morally sinful. It violates our created nature and the eternal law of God. But where there is no law, there is no sin.
Despite the best efforts of secular admirers (see Christopher Hitchens), it is simply impossible to separate King’s denunciation of racism and segregation from his Christian confession and theological convictions about the nature of the universe. Absent a creator God who ordered the moral universe, the “arc” is no more than a sort of elevated survival instinct, our inevitably shifting social conscience, or some Platonic abstract ideal (a toothless law without a lawgiver).
By common grace some people will be motivated by these alternate principles, at least for a time. Eventually philosophical incoherence catches up. Then these moral foundations simply cannot sustain the needed, long-term struggle for justice that King and his associates engaged in. For peaceful, passionate, and determined protest, we need to be persuaded that we are tapping into moral bedrock of reality—one subject to the vindication and redemption of its Creator.
Stephen Grabill attempts the treacherous task of reintegrating Reformed Protestant theology with natural law by appealing to Reformation-era theologians such as John Calvin, Peter Martyr Vermigli, Johannes Althusius, and Francis Turretin, who carried over and refined the traditional understanding of this key doctrine.