Black History Month
Last month my son came home from school every day of the week leading up to Martin Luther King Jr. Day talking about segregation, Ruby Bridges, and the man himself MLK. This spurred a desire in me to learn more about this preacher of justice and freedom. I’m grateful to my son for this.
One thing I’ve wanted to do for quite sometime, yet neglected, is read the famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail. So, to honor Black History Month I decided to wait no longer. I dove into the letter and was captivated. Captivated by MLK’s ability to reason and write, to stand firm in humility, and to engage in non-violent direct action. None of this is easy. Humility stepped to the front of the page. Every sentence confident and humble.
The Letter in Context
Amid the heated disagreements surrounding desegregation in 1963, Birmingham was the hottest of hotbeds in the South. Dr. King was asked to participate in non-violent demonstrations with the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. He agreed and came over from Atlanta, GA to partner with his friends and fellow black ministers.
They were arrested and imprisoned in Birmingham, Alabama. During this time a public statement of concern and caution was published by eight white religious leaders of the South. They addressed issues of “timing” and legality. Apparently Dr. King considered their concern authentic and decided that with his free time in jail he would respond. I’m grateful he did.
It’s a peek into the mind of a non-violent revolutionary. This brilliant orator pens for the world a clear vision of the struggles of the black man in his time and unfortunately in ours as well.
I want to take portions of this letter and share my thoughts and learning. It really was eye-opening and I recommend everyone read this and consider its content deeply. It’s a must-read for every religious leader of every race but especially my fellow white leaders.
Almost immediately, Dr. King unearths the truth of humanity that too many are quick to ignore. We are all connected. Giving these leaders the reason he left Georgia for Alabama to join the demonstrations, MLK says this…
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.
This powerful statement is grounded in the Christ. This is sound theology of unification and freedom. It’s a call for love across all lines. It’s a perspective that washes away the lines. The made up social constructs that are earthly and not necessary. He torches them by claiming the interconnectedness of all things.
The Apostle Paul said it this way as he discussed God with the Athenian philosophers ad thinkers…
From one man (blood) he created all the nations throughout the whole earth…His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
One of the most important lessons we can learn from the Christ is simply this, we are all from one Source, one Image. Our divisions are our divisions. Not God’s. Our prejudice and hatred and racism is ours, not God’s. Our violence and suffering and oppression are ours, not God’s.
In Christ, we are one. Paul stresses this point this way in another letter to a first century church…
In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.
With renewed purpose I hold to these words because of the words of Dr. King.
As I pastor our small community of faith in downtown Las Vegas I find myself grateful for the diverse group of people that has trusted me to be their pastor. For young, black men and women to trust me to guide them and lead them in the ways of Jesus in spite of my ignorance and lack of experience matching theirs is an honor. One I will never ignore. Why? Because we are one. We are in the Christ. And Christ is all and in all.
If you’re reading this and you’ve trusted me to pastor you in spite of our differences, I want you to know, I’m grateful and I’m trying my best to be with you. I’ll stand with you. I’ll support you. I’ll elevate you and your community.
Do you have thoughts on this aspect of the Letter? Comment below and join the discussion!