Lessons from Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” – Part 2

Yesterday, I shared three lessons people (especially Christians) should learn from Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (You can find that post here).  In celebration of Martin Luther King Day, here are three more important exhortations from Dr. King:

4. Be moderate.
Two of the strongest groups of African-American voices in the Civil Rights movement tended to argue at opposite ends of the spectrum.  On one side were the “do-nothings,” who believed that they could never achieve justice in America, and should just let the issue go.  On the other side were those known colloquially as “black nationalists,” who argued that African-Americans should stop at nothing to achieve their definition of justice.

Dr. King championed moderation: “I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the “do-nothingism” of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist.  There is a more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest.”

In most of our political arguments, there is this “more excellent way.”  It demands that we advance our opinions and beliefs not with guns blazing, but in moderation.  No matter what the pundits and politicians tell us, not everything is worth going to political war over.

5. Don’t be moderate in everything.
Not everything is worth going to political war over, but some things are.  “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion,” lamented King, “that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not 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.”

Some issues cut to the core of human life and dignity, and are clearly spoken about in Scripture.  On those issues, King called for people to abandon the cloak of “moderation,” and to fight for truth and justice.  We should identify those issues in our day (and they are few in number), and do likewise.

6. Hold the church accountable…in love.
When the church is in sin (like much of the white Southern church was during the 1960s in regard to its treatment of non-white people), the church needs to be held accountable.  But the church in sin does not need another hateful critic from within; there are plenty of those from without.  It needs a critic who comes to hold it accountable…in love.  Listen to Dr. King, who had far more reasons to criticize the church than most of us do:

“I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church.  I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church…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 disappointment where there is not deep love.”

The next time your local church (or any other Christian) does something you believe is unhelpful, ill-conceived, or even flat-out sinful, consider this before you criticize: Do you love the church?  Have you wept over it?  If so, you might just be in the state of mind exemplified by King, and ready to write your own letter.

(More articles at www.ThinkingThroughChristianity.com)