As Mr. Lewis recalled, the struggle within time and space was about “Heaven and earth. This was the Social Gospel in action. This was love in action, what we came to call in our workshops soul force.” The goal? “The Beloved Community,” which was, he said, “nothing less than the Christian concept of the kingdom of God on earth.”

This was the vision that brought America to account in the mid-1960s — which was, historically speaking, the day before yesterday. It was a religious vision. One need not profess faith in traditional terms to share it, of course; no sect, no nation, has a monopoly on virtue. And as the fourth-century Roman writer Symmachus noted in arguing against Christians who wanted to remove an altar to the pagan deity Victory, “We cannot attain to so great a mystery by one way.”

I agree. But the American past unmistakably tells us that one way to a more perfect union, one way to a nation where equality before the law and before God is more universal, is the way of King and of Lewis. Which was is also the way of Jesus.