Today is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It is a good time to reflect upon the life of a visionary man of courage. While I find it impossible to condone all the activities and choices made by Dr. King, I amazed by the conviction, passion, and strength of his fight against bigotry, hatred, and racism.
Buried in the midst of a long letter that was written from prison by Dr. King to fellow clergyman in Birmingham, is disturbing prophetic commentary on the church in America. In the context, Dr. King was troubled by the lack of participation of certain clergy to join the non-violent protests, and their attitude that the fight for integration and minority rights should be fought solely in the courts, and not on the streets, even if non-violent forms of protest were used. Hear the frustration in Dr. King's words. Think about the church in America today...
April 16, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
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. (Accessed from http://abacus.bates.edu/admin/offices/dos/mlk/letter.html, on January 16, 2012)
Jesus Christ was a nonconformist.
Jesus Christ deemed it worthy to suffer.
Jesus Christ was deemed an "agitator."
Yet the church that follows Jesus Christ is often the "weak ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound" that Dr. King warned against.
I believe, it is time for the church to recapture her courage and her voice to not only preach the Gospel, but also to confront the injustices that still plague our society. The church must not, should not, and cannot settle for being an "irrelevant social club" when so much of the world is not as it should be.
Thank you Dr. King for your courage. May that same courage be found in every local church in America.