This past weekend we celebrated one of this country’s finest and best legacies. Brian’s post below highlights Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” arguably his most rhetorically brilliant piece of writing.
“Birmingham Jail” is also one of King’s most well known piece, second only to “I Have a Dream.” So, in addition to revisiting “Birmingham Jail” today, I’ve provided links to a sermon and a speech from Dr King, both of which are significantly less familiar to the broad public, an absence that greatly distorts our understanding of the great Civil Rights leader.
“Guidelines for a Constructive Church”
This sermon was delivered in Atlanta, 1966. In it King draws from Jesus’ first official sermon. It is fitting to conclude, as King does here, that the qualities Jesus lists to define his ministry ought to be the same characteristics that define the ministry of his followers: “to proclaim good news to the poor… 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 4:16-21).
King’s sermon still rings powerfully true today as King establishes the makings of an unconstructive church before preaching on the practical application of Luke 4 for his audience:
“You see, the church is not a social club, although some people think it is. They get caught up in their exclusivism, and they feel that it’s a kind of social club with a thin veneer of religiosity, but the church is not a social club. The church is not an entertainment center, although some people think it is. You can tell in many churches how they act in church, which demonstrates that they think it’s an entertainment center. The church is not an entertainment center. Monkeys are to entertain, not preachers.”
Right on, Dr King.
As we listen to and/or read the rest of his sermon, we would do well to consider how King’s real-life, practical application of this Kingdom agenda translate to our present context. How can we heal the broken hearted, demonstrate freedom in Christ, combat segregation in our churches, and proclaim the year of the Lord today?
(Read the full text here.)
“The Three Evils of Society”
The not-so-conservative Martin Luther King Jr folks like to pretend doesn’t exist is represented rather succinctly in “The Three Evils,” which King enumerates as racism, poverty, and war. Many prefer King stick to the fuzzy, flowery abstract of (the last few lines of) “Dream,” but Dr King never does (not even in “I Have a Dream”). Listen as King calls out those in power, busting America’s favorite Lone Wolf by Your Bootstraps myth wide open:
The crowning achievement in hypocrisy must go to those staunch Republicans and Democrats of the Midwest and West who were given land by our government when they came here as immigrants from Europe. They were given education through the land grant colleges. They were provided with agricultural agents to keep them abreast of forming trends, they were granted low interest loans to aid in the mechanization of their farms and now that they have succeeded in becoming successful, they are paid not to farm and these are the same people that now say to black people, who’s ancestors were brought to this country in chains and who were emancipated in 1863 without being given land to cultivate or bread to eat; that they must pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. What they truly advocate is Socialism for the rich and Capitalism for the poor.
*Drops the mic* (Except not really. He’s just getting warmed up.)
Often when people say they wish Dr King or someone like him were here today to help govern the conversation about race and injustice, I think how I’d like to have him back too, but I also can’t help but wonder if they really know who they’re asking for.
(Full text here)
Before I leave you to revisit Brian’s “Lessons from a ‘Birmingham Jail,'” I’ve saved the best link for last: the King Center’s digital archive. This is a very cool, user-friendly resource that couldn’t be any further from the Boringville that typifies historical archives. The Center has collected all kinds of documents from letters to news clippings, telegrams to transcripts–the only subject in seminary in which King makes a C is… wait for it… Public Speaking. How would you like to have been the professor who gave Martin Luther King Jr a “Meh” for public speaking?
Lessons from a “Birmingham Jail” –Dr Brian Franklin
As our nation celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this coming Monday, it is a good time to look back to one of King’s most powerful writings, his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” While sitting in jail for peaceful protest in 1963, King received a letter from local Birmingham clergymen who opposed his methods. King responded with a letter even more poignant and perceptive than his usual.
Last year, I wrote about lessons we should all learn from this letter, particularly in light of our role as Christians in our acrid present-day political atmosphere. Here are those six lessons:
1. Recognize the good will of those who oppose you.
2. Sympathize with your opponent before attacking them.
3. We are interconnected, whether we like it or not.
4. Be moderate.
5. Don’t be moderate in everything.
6. Hold the church accountable…in love.