Please stop politicizing Martin Luther King Day. It's a day for national unity, not political division

It seems that no national holiday is exempt from the media’s need for political controversy.

This Monday, on what should be a day for Americans to put aside politics and come together to honor the legacy of an extraordinary American, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the media has decided instead to seize upon it as yet another opportunity to further sow the division and partisan polarization already plaguing our country.

The New Yorker magazine decided to use Dr. King to touch on the continuing raw nerve that is NFL’s national anthem protests, with its cover depicting Dr. King kneeling alongside Colin Kaepernick and Michael Bennett, two of the instrumental leaders in the controversy. The cover’s artist, Mark Ulriksen, says the inspiration for it came after he asked himself: “what would King be doing if her were around today?”

He goes on to say: “How would you feel if you had to show up at work every day and salute a country that treats black people like second-class citizens? I’m glad that Colin Kaepernick and Michael Bennett are making it political. I’m sure that if King were around today, he’d be disappointed at the slow pace of progress...”

In his famous book “From Strength to Love,” Dr. King wrote “only through an inner spiritual transformation do we gain the strength to fight vigorously the evils of the world in a humble and loving spirit.”

On a day designed for public service and national unity, some in the media insist on making it about politics.

This day shouldn’t be about whether or not Dr. King would support the national anthem protests. Frankly, no one will ever know. Perhaps, we should reflect on what we do know about Dr. King: his teachings on love, his commitment to ministering the Gospel, his dream of equality for all people.

Reporters at the White House on Thursday didn’t care to treat MLK Day with reverence either. I found it telling that even after Dr. King’s nephew gave a powerful speech about his uncle’s legacy, not a single reporter made much of what he said. Instead, the entire event centered around President Trump’s controversial remarks about immigration. Couldn’t they allow American families, even if just for a moment, to appreciate Dr. King’s legacy without being bombarded with top trending political stories?

On Friday, CNN published an opinion piece entitled “Three ways MLK speaks to our time.”  Rather than reflecting on Dr. King’s many achievements in the civil rights movement, the article somehow devolved into an argument for climate change and democratic socialism.

The sad thing is that the crucial point being missed amid all of this is that it is precisely Dr. King’s teachings that we ought to embrace in order to combat the very forces of division the media seems determined to encourage and enflame.

In his famous book “From Strength to Love,” Dr. King wrote “only through an inner spiritual transformation do we gain the strength to fight vigorously the evils of the world in a humble and loving spirit.” As a Christian minister, Dr. King asked God to examine his own heart first. He believed that “darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that” —and thus he knew that authentic inner change must first begin in himself.

Despite the many attempts to sow discord on a holiday meant for unity, MLK Day should serve as a reminder for well-intentioned Americans that we ought to be the change that we seek.

We can’t combat political rancor by adding our own fuel to the fire. Instead, it will take humility to respond in love as other people make enemies out of their fellow citizens.

It will take strength not to retaliate when people demonize other Americans just because of their political differences.

Indeed, it will take an “inner spiritual transformation” to change the vicious nature of our political discourse—just as Dr. King taught us over fifty years ago.

Regardless of the national anthem debate, we can all at least agree that when Dr. King knelt—he knelt in prayer. Indeed, before ever becoming a civil rights icon, he was always a minister first. Let this day serve as a reminder that now—more than ever—we should follow his example and pray that someday America would lay aside bitterness and contempt and, instead, choose unity and understanding.

Jeremy C. Hunt is a 24-year-old writer and commentator. He also serves as an active duty U.S. Army officer. Follow him on Twitter @thejeremyhunt. The views expressed in this article are those of Jeremy C. Hunt only and not those of the Department of Defense.