Monday, January 19, 2009

MLK2 Day Tradition

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and again on April 4th (the day of his assassination) I try to make a point to listen to one of Dr. King's speeches. You can find recordings of many of them online, and they always make me prouder to be a Christian and an American. This year I decided to re-read the Letter from a Birmingham Jail. The King Center has a pdf version available on it's site here. Since I've ranted here about some of my disillusion with Chistendom in America, it's so refreshing to read Dr. King struggle with the same thing.

"I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: "Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother." In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: "Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern." And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, on Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular."

Can't we say the same thing about our elective wars, about the generational poverty in our country, about our disdain for the natural world? And, though churches and clergy can have legitimate discussions about their particular stance on marrying gay couples within their own churches, isn't the legalization of gay marriage an issue of justice which the moderate church should be speaking out about, rather than hiding while the right-wing tries to use the state as a tool for their religious oppression? I'm so grateful to people like Al Sharpton, for his brave stance on the issue of gay rights. But I'm deeply ashamed of the larger, silent church.

Read what Dr. King said about this kind of silent church:

"I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South's beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious-education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: "What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Walleye gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?"

"Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In 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. How could I do otherwise? l 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 through fear of being nonconformists.

"There was a time when the church was very powerful in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being 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. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators"' But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide. and gladiatorial contests.

"Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender 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 even vocal sanction of things as they are.

"But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. 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. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust."

I confess to feeling that outright disgust, even though I am a son and grandson of preachers myself. But Dr. King did not lose hope.

"One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo-Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence."

So if he didn't lose faith, how can I call him one of my heroes and not try to emulate him?

Dr. King finished, "Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty." I expect that tomorrow, during the inauguration, some will say all those stars are shining. I still think the moral arc of the universe is a bit longer than that.

But I will still celebrate tomorrow, because it will be another sign that it bends toward justice.

1 comment:

@bdul muHib said...

Today I was celebrating Texas Confederate's Day...