July 22, 2018

MLK on the Church

MLK

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
January 20, 2014

Today, we present an excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, written April 16, 1963. King wrote this in response to a public statement that had been made by eight white Alabama clergymen, who disapproved of Dr. King and his methods of civil disobedience.

There is much we could focus on in this letter, but today let’s hear MLK’s words regarding the church of his day. Perhaps they can help us reflect upon the contemporary church, the challenges facing her, and how we as the people of God might “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with [our] God” (Micah 6:8) in our own communities today.

* * *

king_arrest_jpgIn deep disappointment, I have wept over the laxity of the Church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the Church; I love her sacred walls. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson, and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the Church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the Church was very powerful. It was during that period when the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the Church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Wherever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But they went on with the conviction that they were a “colony of heaven” and had to obey God rather than man. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest.

Things are different now. The contemporary Church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the archsupporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the Church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the Church’s silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the Church as never before. If the Church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early Church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. I am meeting young people every day whose disappointment with the Church has risen to outright disgust.

Maybe again I have been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world?

* * *

King, Dr. Martin Luther; Thoreau, Henry David (2011-03-12). On the Duty of Civil Disobedience by Thoreau & Letter from Birmingham Jail by King (Kindle Locations 566-581). Final Arbiter. Kindle Edition.

Comments

  1. I wonder if Martin Luther King was the first post-evangelical.

    Here is a quote that I stumbled upon a couple of weeks ago and used in a comment here at iMonk. According to the source, Dr. King wrote it in 1948, but it fits well with Birmingham.

    It is a common saying in religious circles that the church is the hope of the world. This question inevitably leads the objective mind to a bit of doubt. He immediately asks, How can the church be the hope of the world when it is the most reactionary institution in society?” In other words, the church is supposed to be the most radical opposer of the status quo in society, yet, in many instances, it is the greatest preserver of the status quo. So it was very easy for slavery to receive a religious sanction.

    Therefore, I conclude that the church, in its present state, is not the hope of the world. I believe that nothing has so persistently and effectively blocked the way of salvation as the church. On the other hand, the church can be the hope of the world, but only when it returns to Christ. If we take Christ to the world, we will turn it upside down, but the tragedy is that we too often take Christianity.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      >I wonder if Martin Luther King was the first post-evangelical.

      He does sound a bit like one, but I don’t know, it could be that he uses the same rhetorical style to express similar dissatisfaction [and to motivate his audience].

      What is the definition of a “post-evangelical”?

      There are similar [pre-]echoes to in earlier American sermons. The truth is that we must constantly “return to Christ” as we constantly stray; like Hosea an Gomer.

      > believe that nothing has so persistently and effectively blocked the way of salvation as the church

      This must be rhetorical, as consideration of it leaves it making no sense. That “nothing has so persistently and effectively blocked the way of salvation” cannot be true when nothing else is presenting the “way of salvation”.

      Rhetoric is a literary genre and it must be read as such.

      • Good morning, Adam.

        Dr. King was a master of rhetorical style, but this is no “mere” rhetoric. I printed out the entire letter last night and read it with coffee this morning. I encourage you to do the same, because reading excerpts on the computer screen really doesn’t capture the depth of his message.

        The excerpt that Mike included above comes on page 9 (of 11 pages, single-spaced), but this theme of the church’s complacency (and complicity!) permeates the letter. He cranks on the heat a couple of pages earlier, and maintains the pressure (gracefully, non-confrontationally) through to the end. In fact, the letter is addressed to “My Dear Fellow Clergymen” and is written to an audience that should be learned in the bible, in basic philosophy, in history, and in the difference between law and justice. Respect for his audience as brothers in Christ is evident even as he chastises them, and he did not “dumb down” the message. Neither did he try to impress anyone with obscure references or intellectual emptiness.

        The quote that you’ve identified as a tool of literary genre, namely “nothing has so persistently and effectively blocked the way of salvation as the church”, is no hyperbole to Dr. King. Those who should have been guardians and champions of justice have instead become partners with injustice. Or, as Dr. King said, “Far from being disturbed by the presence of the Church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the Church’s silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are.”

        You say that his words “cannot be true when nothing else is presenting the ‘way of salvation’”. No, and nothing else will present the way of salvation as long as the church works against that goal.

        Print it out. Besides being a masterful piece of rhetoric (in the good sense) it’s also true.
        http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html

        • Amen! I look forward every semester to teaching this letter in my Exposition and Persuasion class. People who only vaguely knew about King are awed and moved by it. It’s one of my favorite things to read with them.

          • He wrote it in the margins of newspapers while he was in jail because that was all the paper he had. It seems that some clergymen thought what he was doing in Birmingham was “unwise and untimely.”

            So he had to say something.

      • I think Martin Luther King was maybe a transitionary figure from evangelical to post-evangelical, kind of like Martin Luther was the transition figure from the medieval/pre-modern to the modern era.

    • “I wonder if Martin Luther King was the first post-evangelical.”

      I’m not sure “post-evangelical” means the same thing today that it may have meant then. I was 13 at the time Dr. around the time Dr. King was in jail and I don’t recollect those words being used anywhere. Regardless, I would agree that Dr. King’s sentiments towards the Church of his time sound similar to post-evangelical sentiments today.

      In 1963 my family was relocated to Louisiana, where I resided until 1980. I remember that most of my friends and their parents from the Jesuit High School I attended were opposed to both integration and Dr. King in particular. In fact, such sentiments were common among Southeners of all traditions. As Dr. King said, the most segregated place in America at that time were churches on Sunday morning.

      So, whereas the only denomination which I recall which officially took issue with him was the Southern Baptist Convention, it was not just Southern Evangelicals who opposed Dr. King; it was practically every white person I ran across.

      • I’m not sure “evangelical” means the same thing today, let alone “post-evangelical.”

        I have a friend about your age who said that he stood up and clapped at his desk in high school when they heard the news of Martin Luther King’s death. That was in Oklahoma andI expect that he wasn’t the only student clapping. He married a northern woman who told me, “I grew up thinking the Civil War was over until I met Jim’s family.” Jim became a pastor, they adopted three African-American babies, and became a target of the KKK instead of a sympathizer of them. People can change.

        • Yes, people can can change, and indeed many have.

          I was 17 years old when Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968; I was a senior at Jesuit High School in Shreveport, LA. The flag was ordered hoisted at half mast the next day and I remember many of my classmates complaining that Dr.King should not be not honor as such for he was nothing but a (various and sundry racial epithets, political inclinations, and even anatomical and anthropomorphic insults added at this point). But not all of my classmates reacted this way, a minority had changed their opinions. For sure, the Jesuit priests and scholastics were way more charitable towards Dr. King than the student body and their parents.

          And by the time I left Louisiana in 1980 attitudes towards the Civil Rights Movements had changed dramatically, mostly among the young, myself included.

        • Arkansas, not Oklahoma.

  2. Thank God that, given our manifold failures, the church is not the hope of the world; thank God that Jesus Christ is the hope of the world.

    And thank God for Martin Luther King, Jr., and the legacy of his heroic life.

    • Yes, Jesus Christ is the hope of this world. But He choose to work through His Church, His body. And in this regard He is not helpless, for the Church is subservient to Him and He will bring about reformation again and again, perhaps not universal, but effective all the same.

      • “Subservient”? Am not sure if you intended to use this word or another – if yes, then I think it’s not the view that Christ communicated to others, as recorded in the Gospels.

        • Well, Christ is God, the head of the Church, the King of kings, The Lord of lords, the One to whom every knee will bow and confess that He is Lord, etc. Subservient means submissive, deferential, compliant, etc. I would think that it is the right word to use. I’m good with it.

          • Oh, I left this one out… “God has put all things in subjection under his feet….in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control.” (1 Corinthians 15.27; Hebrews 2.8)

          • What do you then do with Jesus’ saying that he no longer calls us servants, but friends?

            I do not think the kingdom of God is about a power-wielding deity forcing his will on people. Quite the opposite.

            You might like Robert Farrar Capon’s books on the parables. There’s a thread running throughout about what God’s kingdom and God’s power are really like, and it’s not at all what you describe. He articulated it so well that I can only hope to bring a faint echo of his words to a blog comment, which is why I’m recommending him to you.

          • There is tension here, to be sure, and I’m OK with that. We are told to fear God and yet to approach His throne in confidence. We also read that He calls us His friends and His brothers, and yet He is God, King and Lord. We have to accept both of these truths simultaneously.

            I have not read much of Capon’s writings but what little I have read does not seem to contradict what I’m saying here. Regardless, the kingdom of God is not a democracy but a monarchy. I like my government to run as a republic governed by elected officials, and I like my church to be governed by elders who must have the support of the congregation or must step down. But the kingdom of God is run by an absolute Monarch, who is perfect in love, grace, wisdom, mercy, purity, holiness, … And knowing that gives me a great deal of comfort!

          • ” But the kingdom of God is run by an absolute Monarch”

            Who allowed himself to be “edged out of the world “, making him a very strange sort of Monarch who other monarchs are loathe to emulate.

            When we speak of God as king, I think we should remember what a paradoxical kind of king Jesus was, and is.

          • “When we speak of God as king, I think we should remember what a paradoxical kind of king Jesus was, and is.”

            Yes, quite true, which is what I meant when I wrote that there’s “tension here.” I think we agree more than not.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Thank God that, given our manifold failures, the church is not the hope of the world; thank God that Jesus Christ is the hope of the world.

      Not much of a stretch from there to the “YOU have a ‘Religion’, *I* Have a Relationship” smackdown I remember from my time in-country. Can you tell I’m very much against glib Christianese one-line answers?

      • ” Can you tell I’m very much against glib Christianese one-line answers?”

        I can tell you are very much for heavy-handed, distorting caricature.

  3. The second to last paragraph is striking (“But the judgment of God is upon the Church as never before.”) in that here we are 50 years later & it’s never been truer. The Church is bleeding members not because people have given up on God but because they’ve given up on the institution. Recapturing an understanding of sacrificial love as opposed to emotive love & focusing on being members of the Body of Christ rather than a religious social club are critical components to the Church’s transformation.
    Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote similar statements about the German Church 30 years before MLK. Brothers in Christ.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > The Church is bleeding members not because people have given up on God
      > but because they’ve given up on the institution

      They have given up on the institution because it has failed [how?], or because it has simply become superfluous and irrelevant [to them]?

      > … capturing an understanding of sacrificial love as opposed …

      Is not this cyclical? Those who have no interest in sacrifice, they have no desire to invest, then have no use for the Church, the Church provides them nothing, so they “give up on it”. Perhaps the “giving up” on it presages the entire issue.

      > Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote similar statements about the German Church 30 years
      > before MLK.

      So if we accept DBs, MLKs, and much of the commentary here – at face value – the church has been in a decrepit state for nearly a hundred years. ?

      But MLK rallied the church; the church played a vital role in the civil rights movement.

      His statement ” Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world?” in interesting. He felt that the church should play a role in saving the “nation”? And what did he mean by that? [I can hear a lot of pundits going in the red-line frenzy at that kind of statement]. Note also here is does not say “the Church” but “organized religion” I cannot avoid mentally laying this in opposition to ‘unorganized religion’??? Clearly he was laying a challenge at the feet of the institutions.

      • Hi again, Adam,

        In your last paragraph you’re exactly right to question what Dr. King meant by “the Church” or by “organized religion”–and you’re right also that the church played a vital role in the civil rights movement. He acknowledges that too.

        I think he answers your question. Immediately following the quote that you’ve cited, “Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world?” comes this:

        Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.

        • Again, I sense that as a Catholic Christian my memories, experiences, and view of Dr. King are different than those of other faith expressions.. I was fairly young during the time of his efforts and death, but everyone around me then was far more supportive of his mission than the heavily-racist people in school and the community around me.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            It is amazing. I grew up in a post-civil-rights movement America. I was born in 1972. I knew some openly racist ‘rednecks’ where we lived – in an area that what was then mostly abandoned farmland. But it was a quality almost everyone [at least overtly] looked down on.

            My family was mixed race by that time, my Unionist grand-father [who lived on the same property] would have pounded me into oblivion had I uttered a racist comment, and the urban neighborhood where my other grand parents lived [1] was close to half Vietnamese. My father had served in the Marines in a mixed-race military.

            The speed of those changes is bewildering.

            [1] This is the house I now own, it was built by my great grand-father. At the time it was one of only two houses on the street in a “city” [barely] that was almost almost entirely white [many French & Dutch descendents]. There is a photograph of a horse-drawn milk wagon stopped on the dirt street in front of the house. Now I am four blocks from an interstate and there is a bus stop at the end of the block. When I get on that bus, especially on weekends, there are numerous languages being spoken.

            A few people I work with refer to my neighborhood as “in the ghetto”. I assume this is due the fact the neighborhood is not majority white. But there is no crime to speak of and everybody gets along. Property values are on a steady climb, residential units are going up like weeds. So the fear still lingers on, but their neighborhoods are emptying and these are filling. Amid all the problems and arguments – it is a nice to take the time to realize the extent of that change.

          • I grew up in a Roman Catholic family, and I can tell you that there was plenty of prejudice in the Italian ethnic enclave that comprised a large part of the Catholic church in the U.S. during the period when King was marching for civil rights. I would imagine it wasn’t too different in some of the other ethnic groups that came from Roman Catholic countries. Remember, it was Irish Catholic immigrants who played a large part in the draft war that rocked NYC during the Civil War, and who were involved in the lynchings of completely innocent African American bystanders during that episode.

          • Robert,

            Yes, there was plenty of prejudice to go around at one time, heck italian didn’t trust the Irish who didn’t trust the African American who didn’t trust the Hispanic… it was definitely more along cultural lines. Also… the draft riots in NYC and lynchings had more to do with the deep seated concern the Irish had for the only jobs they could get…. very low level manual labor jobs, since they were considered lower than pigs on the evolutionary scale (Catholic Irsh, not the Stotch Irish that came at the turn of the 18th century). They saw the freed black as someone who would compete with them for work that was alrready hard to get. That definitely doesn’t condone the action, it was pretty horrific, but then Irish and natives had already been getting into it pretty regularly as well for the last twenty so years from the time right before the great famine.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Also… the draft riots in NYC and lynchings had more to do with the deep seated concern the Irish had for the only jobs they could get…. very low level manual labor jobs, since they were considered lower than pigs on the evolutionary scale (Catholic Irsh, not the Stotch Irish that came at the turn of the 18th century). They saw the freed black as someone who would compete with them for work that was alrready hard to get.

            Also, Irish weren’t considered “real” White People back then. (Definitions of “White” were very narrowly-drawn back then, including de facto “Catholics are NOT White” development of the Reformation Wars.)

            And there’s also a pecking-order factor: Blacks were now at the bottom of the heap, with Irish second from the bottom. Nobody is as vicious in stomping on those below them as someone who WAS on the bottom and is now second from the bottom. They’ll do ANYTHING to keep from being back on the bottom, and making sure someone else is is one of the easiest ways to do it. Just because you got stomped on doesn’t mean you’re not capable of turning around and stomping on the next group to arrive; in many ways it makes you MORE likely to.

  4. MLK was a prophet. As Jesus said, “which of the prophets did your father’s not kill?:

  5. We really should take off our rose-colored glasses when we look at this man. He did not live heroically, and most of his words were not original. He was no Bonhoeffer.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > We really should take off our rose-colored glasses when we look at this man.

      No one here has cited him as an exemplar of flawlessness.

      > He did not live heroically, and most of his words were not original.

      He spoke for those who had no voice. He challenged the standing powers in the name of justice and equity. He raise people to awareness and action against injustice. He was murdered by those who opposed justice and equity. That is a hero.

      Many of history’s heroes have been deeply flawed and damaged people. They are heroes none the less.

      “Even a monster that finally turns on its master does more good than a hermit in his hole”

      > He was no Bonhoeffer.

      Of course not. Only Bonhoeffer is Bonhoeffer. MLK challenged a different evil in a different place in a different time.

      • I agree with Adam.

        Clark, you’ve said, “He did not live heroically, and most of his words were not original.”

        Depends on what you mean by hero, I guess. He was a sinner, for whom Christ died. Is that what you mean? He risked his life to speak against injustice, if that qualifies as hero.

        And as for his words not being original, well… many of them came from the bible, or from Socrates, or from Lincoln, or Jefferson.

        Then they shot him.

        • >We really should take off our rose-colored glasses when we look at this man.

          Okay. Just so long as you do so for everyone you hold in esteem. Also, take a look at the list of the Bible’s “Faith Hall of Fame” listed in Hebrews 11. Every one of those people had MAJOR problems.

          >He did not live heroically…

          Hmm…not sure that’s necessarily a thing to look for in a person. How heroic was David when he stayed behind instead of joining his army in battle, then sending Bathsheba’s husband to his death so he could have Bathsheba? Yet I think most people consider David a hero.

          >and most of his words were not original.

          Anyone who spouts the gospel is, to some extent, using words that aren’t original.

          >He was no Bonhoeffer.

          I’m sure Bonhoeffer had his sins.

      • “He spoke for those who had no voice. He challenged the standing powers in the name of justice and equity. He raise people to awareness and action against injustice.”

        Couldn’t the same be said of anti-abortion protesters today? Or should we continue to write them off as “culture warriors”?

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > most of his words were not original

      I do not see how this matters. Words exist to serve, if he employed them well in the service of the good, then their origin is of no consequence.

      Besides – at this point in history there are *very* few original words. Our challenge is more to rise to embrace the wisdom we have.

      • I’ve spent a big part of my life in academic settings. It’s called plagiarism, it’s stealing, and it would get you or me kicked out of any respectable institution of higher learning.

        • If it’s a well-known source such as the bible, it’s allusion not plagiarism. His listeners knew what he was saying even without reference. And he did reference his allusions; read the letter.

          I think his best allusion came on the night before he was killed. He’s not exactly calling himself Moses, but there’s a good analogy there and his audience “got it.”

          Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind.

          Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

          And so I’m happy, tonight.

          I’m not worried about anything.

          I’m not fearing any man.

          Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

          Then they shot him.

          • The bottom line is MLK brought around change for a group of people, and while he was able to influence it, that change was conducted peacefully. For that he was a great man.

        • Marcus Johnson says:

          That’s why they crucified Jesus. All that repeating stuff he read in the Old Testament. Sure, he had that lame excuse that the Scriptures testified of him, and that He wanted to redirect a society deeply steeped in sin to an understanding of Scripture that was more in line with the character and purpose of God, but you’re right, a plagiarist is a plagiarist, no matter how noble we make him out to be, or how “divine” they claim their true nature is.

          And since, obviously, King is no Jesus (although Jesus is King…get it?), he should be allowed to get away with far less than what that plagiarizing Jesus did. Can’t believe that guy outlived Jesus by six years, either.

    • I find this comment baffling.

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      In Haiti, there are folks so desperate to stave off hunger that they resort to eating mud cookies make of dirt, water, and vegetable oil. It has no nutritional value, but it gives the temporary feeling of satiety. Comments like Clark’s are like one of those mud cookies; no value, just a feeling of being “full,” having access to that special truth about King that matters more than this pervasive fight for equality among all races, creeds, colors, and classes that continues today.

      Unfortunately, ridiculous comments like this are also evidence of the kind of willful ignorance that prevents King’s dream from being fully realized. His words weren’t original? Neither was Jesus’. He’s no Bonhoeffer? He’s also no Gandhi, no Harvey Milk, no Moses, no Jesus. We don’t remember King because he was a saint; we remember him because he was a prophet.

      Enjoy looking for the clouds instead of the silver lining. Too bad it doesn’t justify much legitimate discourse.

  6. David Cornwell says:

    I’m not going to present objective evidence here based on any kind of research, but just from my own memory of the times. And of course first we must remember that King was writing from a jail cell. I lived in, or near, Lexington, Kentucky during most of these turbulent times. So while not deep south, it did in some ways reflect the conservatism of south as a whole, but moderated by the University’s presence, which meant that a more liberal element existed also.

    The Church reflected the area and the era. So while there was admiration for King from some of the pastors of mainline churches (which were at that time still the main thing.) In Lexington the denominational representation were Methodist, Southern Baptist, and Presbyterian. The Catholic Church was a strong minority, and there were a scattering of Episcopalians. There were plenty of smaller groups also represented, being a variety of fundamentalist Baptists, holiness, and whatever.

    For the most part the churches presented, for its membership, a way of “personal” salvation. For some this meant getting saved (sometimes again and again). For others it meant that the pastor preached about a way to be personally satisfied and happy in one way or another. It could involve “spiritual growth” or sanctification, or a something similar to Peale’s positive thinking. It had very little to do with society as a whole, racism, poverty, or war. These were ugly things best let alone or left to the politicians to resolve. One did not want to look at ugliness, and would rather turn the gaze in another direction (same as now?). Preachers who mentioned these things made the people uncomfortable and maybe not feeling so good about their personal religion.

    So King provoked several feelings, it seems to me. One was that he was a troublemaker, and probably a communist. Anyone who wanted to change society in a big way was accused of being a communist. Even more so than now, when that accusation has lost some of its sting. People accused King of “stirring things up.” J. Edgar Hoover kept secret files on him (and on everyone else, including presidents).

    Those in local churches who supported King were political liberals, who may have still been fairly conservative in theology. The Democratic Party was powerful then, but deeply divided. Support for social programs, such as poverty, peace, and racism, came from the denominational boards, rather than local congregations. These boards were located in places like New York City, Washington, D.C., or other places far away from most local churches. They usually represented those who were political and theological liberals. Being so situated they created a lot of tension with grassroots membership. Both held the other in disdain.

    The feeling of the average person, was that while black people were discriminated against, they should be patient, and not rock the boat. Plenty of boats were being rocked in 1963, and times turned very violent.
    I remember feeling admiration for the Catholic and Protestant clergy who made themselves visible during the marches and protests and the ’60’s. I thought them to be brave, and that they had a willingness to sacrifice safety in behalf of something much bigger than themselves. However beyond that, I did very little. In 1963 I was 25, and had been married less than a year. I never believed in segregation, nor the discrimination that went along with it. But personal involvement was not an option. I’ve learned a lot.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > Anyone who wanted to change society in a big way was accused of being a communist.

      And some things have not changed much. Only we’ve replaced “Communist” with “Socialist” or “Marxist” . That pesky rabble rousing pope.

      “Communist” I guess seems exclusively Soviet? [although the Chinese claim the title of Communist, and there are way more of them than there ever were soviets].

      • Marcus Johnson says:

        Any chance you remember who said something like, “If I feed the poor, they call me a saint; if I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist?”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      For the most part the churches presented, for its membership, a way of “personal” salvation. For some this meant getting saved (sometimes again and again). For others it meant that the pastor preached about a way to be personally satisfied and happy in one way or another. It could involve “spiritual growth” or sanctification, or a something similar to Peale’s positive thinking. It had very little to do with society as a whole, racism, poverty, or war. These were ugly things best let alone or left to the politicians to resolve. One did not want to look at ugliness, and would rather turn the gaze in another direction (same as now?). Preachers who mentioned these things made the people uncomfortable and maybe not feeling so good about their personal religion.

      Yet another corollary of a Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation. (Like Evangelicals have gotten themselves locked into.) “So what about injustice; I’M *SAVED*! And It’s All Gonna Burn Anyway, so Why Bother?”

  7. “But the judgment of God is upon the Church as never before. If the Church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early Church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.”

    In the twenty-first century we’re seeing just that – irrelevant, forfeiting the loyalty of so many across the spectrum. The landscape has shifted dramatically since the day King penned this sentiment.

  8. Christiane says:

    “If the Church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early Church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.”

    the term ‘prophetic witness’ comes to mind

  9. What a powerful article! MKL was all about the scripture and unity in the body of Christ – something all too few of pastors are today….

  10. The first book that King wrote, “Stride Toward Freedom,” was plagiarized from numerous sources, all unattributed, according to documentation recently assembled by sympathetic King scholars Keith D. Miller, Ira G. Zepp, Jr., and David J. Garrow. […]

    King’s doctoral dissertation, “A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Harry Nelson Wieman,” for which he was awarded a PhD in theology, contains more than fifty complete sentences plagiarized from the PhD dissertation of Dr. Jack Boozer, “The Place of Reason in Paul Tillich’s Concept of God.”

    According to “The Martin Luther King Papers”, in King’s dissertation “only 49 per cent of sentences in the section on Tillich contain five or more words that were King’s own….”!

    (Plagiarized from a classic: “The Beast as Saint”: http://www.martinlutherking.org/thebeast.html)

    • And a longer version, with side-by-side examples of his plagiarism:

      http://www.martinlutherking.org/articles/the_king_holiday.pdf

      (see p. 12)

      • The site martinlutherking.org was created by the white-supremacist, neo-nazi organization Stormfront (motto: White Pride World Wide).

        Wikipedia says:

        “Stormfront established MartinLutherKing.org to discredit Martin Luther King, Jr.[44] In a 2001 study of white nationalist groups including Stormfront, academics Beverly Ray and George E. Marsh II commented that ‘Like the Nazis before them, they rely upon a blend of science, ignorance, and mythology to prop up their arguments’.”

        Wayne, try again with something more trustworthy.

      • MLK had almost exactly the same set of virtues, and shortcomings, as Bill Clinton and JFK. Yes, MLK plagiarized his doctoral dissertation (and his first book), making pious references to “Dr.” MLK a bit of a farce. (JFK behaved similarly with “Profiles in Courage”.) Yes, he was a total horn-dog who cheated on his wife basically nonstop. (Ditto JFK and WJC.) Yes, he had Communist connections and backers (hard to avoid back then, for anybody active in left-wing politics). Yes, his posthumous promotion as a sort of pacifist was a cynical ploy to stop black rioting, a one-sided interpretation based more on rhetoric than behavior (ditto Gandhi and Nelson Mandela). Yes, Christianity for him was more a source of power than accountability. Robert E. Lee was a far more admirable man in almost every possible way, yet to support a holiday in his honor is considered racist. We are dealing here in symbols, not in historical realities. For that matter, there is every reason to believe that the historical Jesus was far removed from the idealistic figure he has become in the popular imagination. Christianity deals in symbols, not in truth (although “Truth” has become one of its symbols.)