In Theory: How would you update the 'I have a dream' speech?

Aug. 28 marked the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous “I have a dream” speech, which some say was so peppered with scriptural allusions that it was more sermon than speech.

Clarence Jones, a civil rights activist who stood on the dais with Dr. King that day, is said to have turned to the person beside them and muttered, at the start of the speech, “These people don't know it, but they're about to go to church.”

Q: If you were to give your own “I have a dream” speech today, how would your faith inform your dreams for a transformed nation and world? What quotes from Scripture might you hold up as a vision and inspiration for all?

Mine is more than a dream in the sense of a fantasy or an aspiration that might go unfulfilled. It is more than a call to action, lest it fail. It is rather the hopeful and certain expectation that the kingdom of God will be established on Earth, directly ruled by his son Jesus Christ, and that all peoples will draw close in heartfelt allegiance to him.

Isaiah 2:2 promises the establishment of Jesus’ universal rule: “Now it will come about that in the last days, the mountain of the house of the Lord will be established as the chief of the mountains, and will be raised above the hills; and all the nations will stream to it.” Psalm 2 clearly identifies God’s son Jesus as the heir of this kingdom.

Scripture teaches that the hallmarks of Jesus’ reign will include justice and righteousness, peace and truth, gentleness, prosperity and abundance. It will be people calling to God and receiving his answer. It will be the exclusion of all that hurts and harms, of all that is wicked and worthless. It will be the defeat of sin and Satan and death.

In a bold prophetic prediction, Revelation 11:15 foretells the joyous words that will rock heaven and Earth: “There arose loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he will reign forever and ever.’” This is my dream. This is my confident expectation. This is the objective of all that I do in this life.

Pastor Jon Barta
Valley Baptist Church


One of the most famous lines in Dr. King’s speech is: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” My own dream for America is that if ever we as a country were to be judged by the content of our character, our character would have — well, some content.

This is not a diatribe on the specific moral failings of America. Rather, I fear overall that we have stopped thinking, stopped speaking, stopped teaching our children about character. We hardly ever hear the word these days, except in the rantings of someone old and grouchy like me.

But I remember it; don’t you? I remember the time when we knew by the age of 3 that it wasn’t OK to hit people and that it’s necessary to share. I remember being taught that honesty was everything and that my first calling as a human being was to be someone who tries to do the right thing, even when it’s difficult. There were people who went out of their way, who took time and risked my displeasure, to teach me those things.

And I’m sorry, but I think we’ve lost that priority. I think that we stopped instilling and insisting upon high moral character a long time ago. Long enough ago that it’s been a few generations of children; long enough ago that some of those children who were never taught that their character needed content now walk the halls of government and sit in seats of power.

What national or global ill would not be helped if, as a body, the decision-makers and power-wielders were people who know, who’ve known since they were 3, that it’s not OK to hurt people and that it’s necessary to share our toys?

My dream is that one day, Americans and America will be judged by the content of our character and not be found wanting.

The Rev. Amy Pringle
St. George’s Episcopal Church
La Cañada Flintridge


The biblical writers who told the story of the life and mission of Jesus wove stories of how his was a message for the entire world. When Jesus was a baby, wise men from the East somehow divinely knew that Jesus carried a message of hope for more than just those of his indigenous culture.

As an adult, Jesus talked to his beloved chosen people about improving their relationship with the Samaritans, the same people with whom they had been in community during the Babylonian exile. It was a Samaritan, regarded by many as an outsider, whom Jesus held up as a person showing radical hospitality when Jesus was asked by an expert of the law whom he should consider his love-worthy neighbor. Again, it was an outsider, a Samaritan woman, with whom Jesus chose to break tradition and ask for water.

In the history book of Acts, the Holy Spirit leads the Apostle Phillip to get into a chariot in order to convert, and soon after baptize a traveler from a long way away — an Ethiopian eunuch.

The message of Christ’s love is a message of worldwide welcome and inclusion. No part of it contains elitism or privilege. Hopefully, and finally, it is becoming clear that the symbolic rituals we observe as Christians, we do to remind ourselves of the love that we follow rather than to shut anyone out. Our observances are spiritual disciplines, not purification rites. The world for which God longs, and of which Dr. King dreamed, is a world where more than black and white children are included and safe, but a world where children of all races, and indeed peoples of high ethical principals, regardless of age, social status, religion, gender or sexual orientation, can exist and harmoniously prosper.

The Rev. William Thomas Jr.
Little White Chapel


One of my favorite scripture passages is from Matthew 22:37. Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is. He says to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” God gave us a mind and we need to use it.

Jesus is actually quoting from Deuteronomy 6:5, although he says “mind,” whereas Deuteronomy says “might”. So Jesus was not afraid to think, and maybe not even afraid to update the Hebrew scripture he was quoting.

We believe in a living God, and a living God is not confined to ancient scripture. There is a hymn, “Once to Every Man and Nation,” with words by James Russell Lowell, and one of the verses says, “New occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth.”

Think about it: In biblical times slavery was OK; but it certainly isn't today. I believe the spirit of the living God has led us to what Thomas Jefferson said in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

If I had a dream today, I would hope that we would keep Dr. King's dream alive, that each of us be judged, and judge others, not by the color of their skin or the content of their religion but by the quality of our/their character.

And again, using our minds, not condemn others (read homosexuals) for the way they make love. Our “secular” nation is slowly getting it. Shouldn't we in the faith community start to get it as well? That's my dream, and it's based on loving the Lord our God with all our hearts and souls and minds. Use that God-given mind, won't you?

One more point: I know of a church in my denomination, the United Church of Christ, that has a bumper sticker that says, “Our tradition is over two thousand years old; our thinking is not!”


The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church


My faith would certainly guide and inform any major, or even minor, speech that I deliver. And I am sure that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was similarly guided when he delivered his epic “I have a dream” speech.

Since America is a deeply religious country, it is only natural that our leaders would use spiritual guidance when addressing the public. Famous speeches by many American leaders — including past presidents as well as our sitting president — are often peppered with religious references. And why shouldn’t they be? These leaders are trying to positively influence the American people. What better way to do so than through appropriate and uplifting scriptural reference?

If I were to attempt a speech as momentous as Dr. King’s, the scriptural verse I would probably focus on comes from Psalms 126: “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.” This verse aptly portrays the struggles that all oppressed people must endure while at the same time reminding us that great hardship often leads to joy and happiness. These ancient words depict oppression and ultimate salvation — which is the story of slavery, emancipation, and the civil rights movement in our country.

As a rabbi, I can also strongly relate to this message since it has rung true for the Jewish people for millennia: Persecution and tears ultimately give way to triumph and deliverance.

Rabbi Simcha Backman
Chabad Jewish Center


My desire is to see Christ's vision for humanity fulfilled. He stated it beautifully and eloquently in what we know as “the Lord's prayer.” Here's how I translate and understand his vision.

“Our father who is in heaven. Your name is holy.” Jesus wants us to know a God who is not distant or impersonal. God is “our father,” a loving paternal being accessible and available to everyone without partiality. He is perfect and can be trusted without reservation.

“Your kingdom come. Your will be done on Earth, as it is in heaven.” Jesus wants the blessings of heaven to be established on Earth and every curse to be eradicated. This includes all injustice, inequality and sickness, including diseases like cancer, AIDS and childhood genetic disorders.

“Give us this day our daily bread.” Instead of our amassing and hoarding material goods, Jesus wants us to confidently trust Father God to continuously supply us with everything we need. He wants to establish equitable access to income opportunities for all, and the elimination of hunger worldwide.

“Forgive us our faults, as we forgive those who commit faults against us.” By choosing forgiveness in our relationships with one another, Jesus seeks to end wars and conflicts and to establish peace and harmony at every level, including restored marriages and reunited families.

“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” Jesus desires us to live totally free from all individual crimes and every form of governmental and corporate corruption.

“For thine is the kingdom the power and the glory forever.” Jesus passionately desires that the true knowledge of the glory of God's goodness will cover the earth as the waters cover the seas. (Habakkuk 2:14)

To this I can only add an amen.

Pastor Ché Ahn
HRock Church


We have made great progress since the Rev. Martin Luther King delivered his speech. In his address, he looked forward to an America in which blacks and whites look at one another through a prism of love, rather than hate.

Since he spoke, millions of white Americans have twice chosen an African American as their president. Blacks have served in the nation’s highest offices and led some of our largest and most successful businesses.

Martin Luther King’s speech was powerful because he spoke to the conscience of the individual. He compelled his listeners to look in the mirror and measure themselves against the truth. In doing this, he borrowed from Jesus, who almost always addressed his audience on an individual level, even when the crowd numbered in the thousands. If I were to attempt an updated “I have a dream” speech, I might urge us all to study the Savior’s Sermon on the Mount and ask if we can’t do a better job of applying it to ourselves.

Christ urged his listeners to seek a higher spiritual plane, one where the occupants are motivated by a genuine love for God and their fellow humans. To place the well-being of others ahead of our own is a difficult thing to do, yet is it what Christ did. He also said that we must learn to do the same.

How different would America be if we truly embraced this motive and made it a part of our very being? How would we approach issues such as healthcare or affordable housing if we really wanted help others? Might we have discovered successful compromises for these problems years ago? And might America be a much better place today? The answer is yes.

Michael White
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
La Crescenta


I would first quote from Acts 17:26 where it says, “From one man he [God] made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole Earth.” This passage makes it clear that we’re all related; no matter what race, nationality, appearance, culture, land, whatever, we are all truly one another’s brothers and sisters several times removed. How should family members, even distant relatives, treat their own blood? If we could grasp this relationship and believe in the God created us, we would have greater hope.

I would then quote from Revelation 5:9 where the angel says, “You [Jesus] are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” This affirms the sacrificial and atoning death of Jesus Christ on behalf of all who will accept it — no matter from where they hail. The world is disparate and desperate, yet no matter where one travels, there will be those gathered for communion to recall the cross and share the love of Christ, which alone truly unifies, and everlastingly so.

Finally, I’d quote Philippians 2:10-11, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on Earth and under the Earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” I know this passage, especially, will both unite and divide the world. It cannot help but do so because for this world to actualize peace, it must embrace the one-and-only Prince of Peace. There’s the rub and unfortunately it will never fully occur this side of eternity. Still, we all have uncles and cousins who are strange to us that we don’t malign or mistreat but still sit at the table together come Thanksgiving.

The Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church


The Bhagavad-Gita, scripture from centuries before the Common Era, says that “A man consists of the faith that is in him. Whatever his faith is, he is.”

I have faith in the power of people to make a better world.

Listeners to my version of the speech delivered today would be in no danger of finding themselves “about to go to church.” People would be free to disagree. Malcolm X called the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom the “Farce on Washington.”

You don't have to be a revolutionary to see that despite considerable progress, racial equality hasn't been achieved. Poverty rates for blacks are twice as high as for whites. School desegregation never disappeared and now is increasing. Black unemployment is twice the rate for whites. Today there are more blacks in prison than were slaves in 1850.

We do have something color-blind — economic injustice. The gap between the very rich and everyone else is growing across the races.

Today's $7.25/hr. minimum wage would have been $9.25 in 1963. At the march John Lewis asked for a $15 federal minimum wage, exactly what today's workers and unions are asking for 50 years later. They have been more than patient, wouldn't you say?

I asked a friend in my church-based book group for advice on today's In Theory question. She showed me the only Post-It in her Bible, marking Isaiah 43:18-19. I like this sprightly translation for vision and inspiration on this historic anniversary: “But forget all that — it is nothing compared to what I am going to do. For I am about to do a brand-new thing. See, I have already begun!”

To which I will add, “If it is to be, it is up to me.” We have begun and must march on.

Roberta Medford


As someone who was active in the Civil Rights Movement of the ’60s in the South, it is hard for me to believe that 50 years have passed since the Rev. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. I remember how confident we were that we were going to make a real difference in the world for racial justice in our lifetimes. I also remember the day in 1968 when we lost the leader who had inspired us during those days of civil disobedience for such a worthy cause.

Today, I am not as naive as I was then; and I don’t believe that everything will have a positive outcome in the blink of an eye. Certainly, a great many things have changed in racial terms since 1963, some for the better and some for the worse. But I do still have a dream.

I am a minister in a tradition looks to many sources for our inspiration, not only Scripture. One of the major sources for me is our Unitarian Universalist Principles. Three of these principles that fuel my dream are the affirmation of “the inherent worth and dignity of every person; justice equity and compassion in human relations; and respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”

It is these statements that encourage me to insist that all people should be honored and treated with respect, whatever their skin color, socio-economic status, nationality, sexual orientation or gender expression. All of these aspirations are unlikely to be accomplished in my lifetime — shorter now than it was in the ’60s. But it is my dream that I can be a part of helping that dream to be realized.

The Rev. Dr. Betty Stapleford
Unitarian Universalist Church of the Verdugo Hills
La Crescenta

Copyright © 2019, Burbank Leader
EDITION: California | U.S. & World