I find so many interesting things through Twitter… really.
John Piper (Christian author & pastor) posted on Twitter this morning with a link to a letter that Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote from a jail in Birmingham in 1963. He mentioned that Stephen Oates (I had to look him up – Wikipedia says that he was a history professor at UMass Amherst and wrote a biography of MLK Jr.) called it “the most eloquent expression of the movement”. I looked forward to reading it all morning.
Came home, read it, and … wow. I mean, I’m challenged by Martin Luther King, Jr. at the outset. But this letter really got me and made me think. How would I respond if injustice showed up on my doorstep? Would I be an advocate of mediocrity, the status quo, or the way things are… or would I rise above it? Would I even think twice? I overlook small injustices and distant injustices all the time. It’s overwhelming to think of all the injustices in the world, yet they exist…
So I’m going to let these quotes, my favorites from the letter, sink in… (followed by my questions for myself in Italics):
“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice… Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.”
Am I far more attached to being “comfortable” than doing what is right? How am I being dismissive? How am I representing the Church?
“…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… Amos an extremist for justice… Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel… Was not Martin Luther an extremist… and John Bunyan… and Abraham Lincoln… and Thomas Jefferson… So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. … Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”
Am I being an extremist? If so, what am I being an extremist for? If not, WHY not?
“Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists. … If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.” (emphasis mine)
I have seen the neglect and pickiness and pettiness that sometimes exists in the church when confronted with social issues. I was in disbelief a few years ago when I learned that many churches were late to address the AIDS pandemic because of its association with sexual sin. Thankfully, I go to a church now that I believe does its best to seek and follow the call of God in response to its community and the world. But I strongly agree with King’s statements. The church ceases to be the Church when it overlooks suffering. BUT… the hard question is… how do I respond to suffering?
I have no desire to be a part of a social club (who needs it?). I want to be involved in a movement for Jesus Christ and His love for the world. But it really does start with me… you can’t move with a group if you aren’t going the same direction.
And so, I take this gentle reminder to reorient myself, to repent of my mediocrity, and to take a step forward.
[see MLK Jr.’s full letter here]