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