Longreads

In November 1967, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a sermon at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. The sermon, titled, “But If Not,” starts with a parable from the Book of Daniel.

Three young men — Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego — refuse to bow before a golden image of King Nebuchadnezzar. “Our God whom we serve,” they tell the king, “is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace.” They believe God will save them, in the end, for disobeying the king’s immoral order to worship him instead.

“But if not,” they reason, “be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” In other words, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are pretty sure that God will reward them in the afterlife for rejecting this false idol. “But if not” — even if their refusal wouldn’t

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