Do you have time for Dr. King?

An excellent use of one hour over this holiday weekend would be to read the full text of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Dr. King wrote the letter in response to criticism from fellow ministers over the timing and methods of King’s protests.  The now famous document was originally scratched out on the margins of newspaper from a cramped jail cell, but his thoughts were anything but confined.

Here are some quotes to whet your appetite:

…I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action. We have gone through all of these steps in Birmingham.

How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law…Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself.

But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

How our nation needs leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. today.  Where are they? I rarely hear or read such well-reasoned positions on challenging social issues articulated so humbly and respectfully or so unapologetically based on Christian truth.  Any such brilliance today is lost in a cacophony of slogans, sound bites, and spin designed more to obscure truth rather than to reveal it.

Sadly, he is no longer among us, but his words are still available and powerful.  Take some time with them.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Galatians 3:28

13 thoughts on “Do you have time for Dr. King?

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  1. Judy: Wonderful post! The link you included connected me to is maybe the single most powerful piece of writing I have ever read. One of many insanely well articulated insights that stood out to me is MLK’s statement that the moderate middle is more harmful and frustrating than entities such as the KKK. I see this in all areas. Could this be some of the “LUKEWARM” Jesus disliked so much? I kinda think so. Thanks for rocking my world!

    1. I’m so glad you took the time to read it! Yes, it is a challenge to Christians not to be “archdefenders of the status quo.” I should read this more than once a year!

  2. Thanks for this post, Judy–what a tragic, horrendous loss which still ripples in hearts today. And you’re right, his words and spirit surely remain accessible to all of us–if we are mindful. God bless you–love, sis Caddo

  3. Thanks for sharing this. I think in the 4 steps he talks about there is one that is ignored in our society today: self-purification. We tend to grab on to some facts we believe indicate injustice and then run with it. Our own introspection is such an important part of leadership and our maturity as faithful people. Gotta check the Spirit to make sure we’re on the right path. Dr. King was amazingly in-tune. To think that all this has happened in our lifetimes, the past 50 years, it’s amazing we’ve made the progress we have. Most people have no idea of what true injustice is. Life isn’t always fair but true injustice, embedded in society, is a whole different story. Your insight and context is appreciated.

    1. That really jumped out at me too, KJ. Humility and an unflinching exploration of our own hearts and motives are the soul of strong and effective leadership. In my opinion, these qualities separate real leadership from self-exalting power grabs. Unfortunately, I see far more of the latter these days. Dr. King’s letter reminds me, and hopefully others, what real leadership looks like. Thanks for your thoughts, KJ. Always appreciated:)

  4. Judy –
    Your words are an inspiring reminder to lean into those who speak Truth. Our family watched The Help this evening and it, too, reminds us of just how lost we humans can wander from the way God intends us to go. I wonder sometimes when I look back on these troubled times in our country, how I would have responded amidst these events. Would I have just taken the baton from my parents’ prejudices, or would I allow the darkness inside to spew rage on those around me just because they were different, or would I have the courage to seek truth and shed light on what I found? It is a scary question for any man or woman to stare at. And yet, no matter what day and age we find ourselves, I suppose it is one we must eventually reckon with. Thanks, Judy, for your courage to seek truth by connecting dots to God.

    1. Thanks Terry. So true that we look back on the racism of the 50s and 60s and congratulate ourselves for our enlightenment, but who knows in what new areas of darkness and deceit we now sit? I am truly thankful for King’s courageous and wise leadership, and I pray for today’s potential leaders to follow him. One thing I know – we’ll only find truth in God.

  5. “An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself.”

    Hmmmm, sounds like laws that Congress has made yet they are immune from – such as participation in Social Security and Obama Care

    1. Perhaps this letter should be required reading for all politicians and elected officials this weekend. Or maybe they can make a law requiring all citizens to read it:)

  6. Beautifully written! I indeed have taken the bait and look forward to reading his letter. Thank you Judy, for a powerful reminder of the purpose for which we enjoy an extra day this weekend. Blessings to you!
    – Shannon

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