Today is a national celebration of the life, work, and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. For many people, today is just another day off, but let me encourage you to engage today prayerfully reflecting on the life of a man whose prophetic voice and presence still echo almost 50 years after his assassination.
LETTER FROM A BIRMINGHAM JAIL
Each year as I commemorate this holiday, I go back to reread Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” I will do so later today and I invite you to do the same.
King’s letter, written in April 1963, is a response to a letter from white clergymen in Birmingham urging him to slow down, calling the civil rights demonstrations there “unwise and untimely.”
In King’s letter, he expresses that he longed to see white Christians calling for justice as loudly as people of color (many of whom were brothers and sisters in Christ, and all of whom are created in the image of God, with inherent dignity and worth, and therefore, deserving of righteousness and justice in their relationships with their fellow man).
King says (in part):
“In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churches stand on the sideline and merely mouth pious irrelevances and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of the mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard so many ministers say, “Those are social issues with which the gospel has no concern.”
“The contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch-supporter 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 sanctions of things as they are.”
WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE FOR US TO RESPOND?
Sadly, the critique within this letter has a haunting timelessness and timeliness for the church in a world that still wonders what the church has to say to issues of racial injustice, and the fruits of racial injustice that have had broad sweeping effects.
As a predominantly white church in the middle of a city that has a history of racial injustice, with whole sections of our city still reeling from the effects of the racialization in our city, we cannot be silent. We cannot stand on the sideline. We cannot be content with pious irrelevancies. As a church committed to seeing the gospel of the kingdom advance, we have to live in light of Jesus’ proclamation of his own mission and align ourselves accordingly:
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)
For us to flesh out our mission “to cultivate communities of transformed disciples who live for the glory of God and the good of the city” we have to be a people who are prompted by the word of God to live as agents of reconciliation and renewal, bearing fruit of the kingdom that Jesus came to proclaim and inaugurate.
Let me encourage you to read Dr. King’s letter today. Pray with me that God gives us eyes to see where and how he is inviting you individually, and our church family corporately to step toward the healing of racial injustice, as well as the long-standing effects of racial injustice in our city. Let’s commit together not just to let these thoughts affect our thinking today, but shape how we live out the mission that God has called us to for decades to come.
I love all of you and am honored to serve with you as we seek to advance the gospel of the kingdom together in our city.