On this Martin Luther King, Jr. day, I’ve been thinking about Dr. King’s legacy as a unifier.

How easy it is, in this era of identity politics and class warfare, to feel that it’s all about conflicting interests and competition (not the healthy kind).

The world will never be entirely fair. Inequities will always exist. That does not relieve us of the responsibility to try to minimize institutionalized inequities and to counter injustices, however. Leaders, including in government, must have the wisdom to undertake what they can and should, and refrain from stirring the pot of fruitless resentment and fractious, unproductive divisiveness.

Dr. King had this wisdom, which today is so lacking. It’s unpopular to acknowledge in some quarters, but I believe a part of what enabled him to be such a great leader–in addition to his brilliance as an individual–was God.

Only under God are we are all equal, and only with a belief in the sanctity of life can each life truly hold equal value. In a world of competing interests and divergent values, a world of individuals striving to argue the merits of their own philosophies, there must be a higher value. Otherwise, the individual differences among us, rather than being a source of beauty, pride, excitement, and interest, can easily bring out the lower aspects of our nature.

If you believe we are of equal value under God, and every life is sacrosanct, the petty divisions and distinctions do not bother you as much. If you have a sense of your innate value as a human being made in the image of God, it does not bother you so much if someone else is wealthier, more successful, taller, or prettier, etc. Nor do you feel the need to be “right” about everything (an insecurity that perhaps drives doctrinaire believers to attempt to convert others, including forcibly).

Like being a child of parents who truly love you, sacrifice for you, and cherish you: you go forth in the world predisposed to find acceptance, because the inner security you project leaves you less vulnerable to feelings of inferiority that can be tapped easily by demagogues, whether left or right.

How blessed we were, how blessed we are, that Dr. King, as a beautiful child of God, saw and summoned the better angels of our nature, and in doing so, brought forth the best in America.