Today we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I’ve come to appreciate Dr. King a lot recently, especially after reading his “Letter From Birmingham Jail” in the “Art of Manliness – Manvotionals” book. Sadly, I believe that Dr. King too often gets lumped in with the more radical activists like Malcom X and we miss the brilliance of his thinking and passion. The man influenced change like few others have.
He was also a flawed man. Much like King David of the Bible, Moses, or any of Jesus’ disciples, King’s life was plagued by struggles against sin. That does not negate what he has done but instead it should give us hope. If God can use a person like Moses, David, Peter, and more recently, Dr. King then He can certainly use us to change the world.
Here are a few highlights from “Letter From Birmingham Jail” – a letter written to clergymen who questioned Dr. King and his methods while King was in jail. Perhaps in light of some of what is happening in America right now, these quotes should be considered as we discuss the future.
“Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.”
“freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
“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.”
“One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.”
“I have not said to my people: “Get rid of your discontent.” Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action…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 live: “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.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal…” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? …Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”