Monday, January 19, 2015

Today Is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, celebrating the birthday of the famous civil rights leader. This year is the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March and of the resulting 1965 Voting Rights Act.  Dr. King was, of course, a Christian minister as well as a civil right leader.  His 1963 Letter From A Birmingham Jail addressed fellow clergy who criticized his tactics and set out his vision of the role of churches in influencing public policy, saying in part:
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 Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred?...
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.... 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.