Martin Luther King

Is Salvation Really for Everyone?

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“All flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:1-6). Well, that depends.

It depends on where you are from. It depends on your country of origin. It depends on your religion. It depends on with whom you are associated. It depends on your race, your ethnicity, your gender, your sexual orientation. The list of criteria for salvation, contrived predominantly from our many fears, is long according to the world as we know it today, but not according to the Gospel of Luke. And since Luke is providing a particular portrait of Jesus, not according to Jesus either.

This passage from Luke for the Second Sunday of Advent points to competing worldviews. The opening verses are deceptively subversive. Into the religious reigns and imperial kingdoms of the first century C.E., the word of God comes. Emperor Tiberius, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip, Annas, and Caiaphas will have to tend with the rule of the word of God, a rule that insists on salvation for all.

How Religious Institutions Act as Forces for Progress

Image via  / Shutterstock.com

Religious institutions have, at times, been at the forefront of progress by engaging society with forceful spiritual leadership. The engagement of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers grape boycott in the 1960s, for example, was part phenomenal leadership, part righteous struggle.

And while most Americans know the pivotal impact of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the Civil Rights Movement, there were many other leaders who held prominent roles in similar religiously-inspired movements. Rev. Dr. Anna Howard Shaw (1847-1919), for example, overcame enormous discrimination and was not only ordained as a minister, but also earned a medical degree from Boston University.

Shaw was a formidable speaker, and lectured throughout the United States and Europe in favor of women’s suffrage, temperance, and progressive causes she believed would relieve the exploitation of women.

How White People Corrupt Martin Luther King’s Message

Screenshot from Wolf Blitzer's interview on CNN.

I love Martin Luther King. I wrote my master’s thesis on his approach to nonviolence. King is the greatest prophet in the history of the United States. And white people should know him better.

Blitzer, like so many white people, doesn’t know Martin Luther King. He misses King’s point. If white people want to reference King, we need to stop using him to condemn black violence. We need to stop pitting a black man against black people. It’s patronizing. It’s demeaning. And it misses the point.

What Repentance for the Church Looks Like Today

Repentance image, itsmejust / Shutterstock.com
Repentance image, itsmejust / Shutterstock.com

I’m asked pretty often what I see for the future of organized religion, and Christianity in the West in particular. Given the fact that I am in the process of completing a book called “ postChristian ,” some people make assumptions that I am convinced it’s all going away.

Granted, Christianity has experienced precipitous decline, and the drop-off likely is far from done. Before we see any leveling-off within the institutional church, there will be many more church closures, consolidation of shrinking denominations, and an increasing number of people called to, and already working in, ministry who supplement their income with some non-ministerial side vocation.

So what do we, who still operate within the system of a declining religion, do about our situation? Some of this has little or nothing to do with anything the church has done or can do. Our increasingly distributed, decentralized, and accelerated culture has forced churches out of the center of American social life. Also, changing cultural norms have made it much more socially acceptable not to go to church.

I’ve long suggested that many of the folks filling the pews during the so-called heyday of the Church some 40 to 60 years ago were there under some duress. They went because of community pressure to do so, because their spouses made them, or because it was a great place to do business networking. But honestly, were we any better off as a faith to have our buildings full if the folks who were there didn’t really want to be there?

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Ultimate Sacrifice

Forty-five years ago today, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his now-famous speech at Riverside Church in New York City, declaring his opposition to the war in Vietnam. One year later -- 44 years ago today -- he was murdered by an assassin.

It is fitting that these anniversaries occur this year during the week we commemorate the death and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.

Dr. King’s Riverside speech is frequently quoted, with his scathing political indictment of the war and the systems of exploitation and oppression that led to it. But how often do we remember that he began that speech by noting that while the Nobel Peace Prize was “a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before,” it was not the most important thing. He continued by saying that:

This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances, but even if it were not present I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I'm speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the good news was meant for all … Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the One who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them?

Dr. King was able to be the leader he was, take the risks he did, and ultimately make the final sacrifice, because he knew who called him and who he followed. He knew that the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus was a living presence in his life and gave him the hope to follow. 

For him, as well as us, believing in Jesus means being a follower and a disciple in bringing the kingdom he lived and taught. By raising Jesus, by vindicating his life and death, God vindicated his message – the kingdom he proclaimed has come and will come. And because God raised Jesus from death, his living presence continues among us and we are empowered to follow him and to live the kingdom. The resurrection is the event on which our faith and hope depends.   

That faith sustained Dr. King, and it can sustain us.

Black Evangelicals, White Evangelicals and Franklin Graham's Repentance

Franklin Graham. Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images.
Franklin Graham in his home office, Boone, N.C. 2003. Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images.

When Franklin Graham expressed doubts about President Obama’s Christian faith during and interview on Morning Joe last week, it reminded me of an uncomfortable dinner I had in the late ‘90s.

I sat down for a pleasant meal in the home of two great friends — one of them a white evangelical faith leader deeply committed to social justice. Well into the evening’s conversation —when we’d dropped all our pretenses and our exchanges moved well past mealtime niceties — one friend asked me something that caught me entirely off guard.

“Do you think Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Christian?” he said.

I was dumbstruck. I had never heard anyone actually ask that question before.

“Yes,” I replied. “What would make you doubt that?”

As he explained, it became clear: My friend wasn’t sure whether Dr. King was a Christian because King’s Christianity didn’t look like my friend’s Christianity.

What is 'Biblical Politics'?

Sojourners has always tried to understand and advocate for "biblical politics." But what does that mean now, especially as we approach another major election?

I was talking the other day to a Christian leader who has given his life to working with the poor. His approach is very grassroots -- he lives in a poor, virtually all-minority community and provides basic services for low-income people. He said, "If you work with and for the poor, you inevitably run into injustice." In other words, poverty isn't caused by accident. There are unjust systems and structures that create and perpetuate poverty and human suffering. And service alone is never enough; working to change both the attitudes and institutional arrangements that cause poverty is required.

Take a Walk on 9/11

As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, many of us are wondering how best to honor the many victims of that tragedy and its aftermath.

Here in Cincinnati, my wife Marty's answer is inviting some of our friends to join us on a walk with some Muslim and Jewish families she invited by simply calling their congregations. She got the idea from my friends and me at Abraham's Path, who are sponsoring www.911walks.org to help people find or pull together their own 9/11 Walks all over the USA and around the world. The goal of these walks is simple: to help people honor all the victims of 9/11 by walking and talking kindly with neighbors and strangers, in celebration of our common humanity and in defiance of fear, misunderstanding, and hatred.

Let's Hold Glenn Beck to His Pledge of Nonviolence

On his radio show last week, Glenn Beck read a vow of nonviolence, which he said he'd been working on for about a year, and pleaded his followers to take it as well. The pledge itself is actually quite good, and even Gandhian, at parts. Here is an excerpt:

Today, quarters of the Earth are endangered by tyranny, discrimination, barbarism, and subjugation by fellow man. With an understanding of basic rights and equal justice, we must remain loyal to God and deliver the rights which [God's] benevolence has bestowed upon us to those who have been denied the blessings of liberty, justice, and equality. More importantly, we must protect them from being robbed in the future, so that forever the world may be safe, and her people free from malevolence. Together, we must be prepared to do our duty no matter the cost and we must do so inexorably. We must march forth steadfast and unconquerable and defeat the forces of evil not by sword, but through our love for mankind and his creator.

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