Martin Luther King Jr.

Clergy Response to "Letter from Birmingham Jail"

On Good Friday 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. led a nonviolent march through the streets of Birmingham, Ala., to draw attention to the injustices of segregation. Arrested for marching without a permit, King composed “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in response to eight white ministers who criticized the timing of the civil rights demonstrations. Rebuking the clergymen for not taking a bolder stance against segregation, King declared that “Justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

Fifty years later, Christian Churches Together in the U.S.A. (CCT) drafted the first-ever clergy response to King’s seminal letter.

An excerpt of CCT’s thoughtful reply is featured in “'We Dare Not Postpone Action,’” in the April 2013 issue of Sojourners magazine. Click here to download the full CCT response.

 

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Preachers Pray for Unity at National Cathedral Inaugural Service

RNS photo by Donovan Marks/courtesy Washington National Cathedral.
The Obamas and Bidens at the Inaugural Prayer Service. RNS photo by Donovan Marks/courtesy Washington National Cathedral.

WASHINGTON — President Obama started his second term with a traditional worship service and a challenge to help heal the nation’s divides.

“We find ourselves desperately longing to find common ground, to find a common vision, to be one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for everyone,” said the Rev. Adam Hamilton, the Kansas City pastor chosen to preach Tuesday at the National Prayer Service at Washington National Cathedral. “In this city and in this room, are the people who can help.”

The inaugural service carried that theme for more than an hour, presenting the nation’s rainbow of faiths and cultures with a bilingual welcome and reading from the Gospel of Matthew, and an imam and Christian and Jewish cantors taking turns calling the congregation to prayer.

The service of petitions and patriotism included a Sikh woman calling for “concern for our neighbors” and a Catholic layman urging a remembrance of Americans’ interdependence. The red, white, and blue theme extended to the altar flowers and a worshipper’s flag-festooned headscarf.

Obama’s Use of Scripture Has Elements of Lincoln, King

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Microphone stand where the President will swear his oath on Monday. Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call

President Obama will publicly take the oath of office on two Bibles once owned by his political heroes, Abraham Lincoln and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. One Bible was well read, but cited cautiously, the other granted scriptural sanction to the civil rights movement.

When Obama lifts his hands from the Bibles and turns to deliver his second inaugural address on Monday (Jan. 21), his own approach to Scripture will come into view. Characteristically, it sits somewhere between the former president and famous preacher.

His faith forged in the black church, Obama draws deeply on its blending of biblical narratives with contemporary issues such as racism and poverty. But like Lincoln, Obama also acknowledges that Americans sometimes invoke the same Bible to argue past each other, and that Scripture itself counsels against sanctimony.

Obama articulated this view most clearly in a 2006 speech, saying that secularists shouldn’t bar believers from the public square, but neither should people of faith expect America to be one vast amen corner.

“He understands that you can appeal to people on religious grounds,” said Jeffrey Siker, a theology professor at Loyola Marymount University in California who has studied Obama’s speeches. ”But you also have to be able to translate your case into arguments that people of different faiths, or no faith, can grasp.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Difference Between Power and Violence

Photo: Kaygorodov Yuriy / Shutterstock.com
Photo: Kaygorodov Yuriy / Shutterstock.com

Violence does not equal power.

Martin Luther King, Jr., understood this. Yesterday was King’s 84th birthday. This year the national holiday to honor him will coincide with President Barack Obama’s second inaugural ceremony. And, all of this happens in the wake of one of the worst mass shootings in the nation’s history. One month after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. — which left 20 children and six adults dead, plus the killer’s mother, found dead in her home — the country grapples with the issue of gun violence. If the country is to come to consensus on the issue, we will have to distinguish between violence and power.

Vice President Joe Biden gave recommendations to the president regarding gun safety on King’s birthday. The questions the media are asking already abound:  What recommendations can the president implement through executive order? Can an assault weapons ban pass Congress? Will victims and gun safety advocates be able to persuade Congress to pass meaningful legislation? 

There will be varying interpretations of the Second Amendment, and there will be some who will argue that guns are necessary for self-defense. We will have the discussion as to whether or not the gun culture in the United States has taken on religious proportions.

The Night Indianapolis Stood Still

Robert F. Kennedy, Ron Galella/Contributor / Getty Images
Robert F. Kennedy, Ron Galella/Contributor / Getty Images

When I stepped back and really thought about what I was experiencing on election night, I started thinking about the night of April 4, 1968, just hours after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.  Having not yet been born, I thought about the coverage of it that I’ve seen. About how Robert Kennedy found himself in front of a crowd of supporters for a presidential campaign rally in Indianapolis. Many there that night were black and hadn’t heard the news of King’s death. As he did with most difficult topics, Kennedy laid it all out there. The crowd gasped and screamed and cried. Kennedy said he understood the anger and hate each of the men and women there that night would probably feel. After all, a white man had also killed his brother.

“What we need in the United States is not division,” Kennedy told the crowd. “What we need in the United States is not hatred. What we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom and compassion toward one another. A feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country.”

Foreclosure Resistance: A Prayer

Foreclosure image via Shutterstock (http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-32385181/sto
Foreclosure image via Shutterstock (http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-32385181/stock-photo-home-for-sale-price...)

The question is, are we listening? For God, who hears the prayers of God's people, is calling us to listen as well. God's justice is a collective project.

But when we listen, we hear stories of oppression, corruption, and injustice, in the face of honesty and hard work. But listening is not enough. When we listen, God calls us from the quiet of prayer to be a healing presence in the world.

"She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness." - Proverbs 31:27

Taking the Long View vs. the Fierce Urgency of Now: Lessons from Arizona

Statues of the Rev. Martin Luther King and Archbishop Oscar Romero at Westminste
Statues of the Rev. Martin Luther King and Archbishop Oscar Romero at Westminster Abbey. Image via Wylio.

Arizona won a significant victory last week when Russell Pearce, author of Senate Bill 1070, lost in a first-ever recall election. 

It was not without great effort. I’ve since been reflecting on the lessons of the work and how we traveled from the darkness of SB1070 to the hope we feel today.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Archbishop Oscar Romero are our heroes. They shared much in common: Both ultimately were focused on being obedient to God and his call on their lives and as such they were both, first, ministers of the Gospel. King and Romero were fixated on justice — in love with poor people and hurting communities. Both searched for middle ground while others stayed safe inside comfortable margins; both were agents of reconciliation.

And, finally, both were martyred for their message.

Yet Romero and King have a seeming discrepancy I want to explore.

Romero called us to take the long view; King discussed the fierce urgency of now. 
Romero essentially prays: Trust God, be faithful. King preaches: now is the time, act forcefully.

The Poor People's March and Occupy Wall Street

Martin_Luther_King_-_March_on_WashingtonAt the dedication ceremony for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, at least two speakers -- the Rev. Bernice King, Martin Luther King's daughter, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, one of King's lieutenants -- reminded us that at the end of King's life he was planning the Poor People's March

The Poor People's March is an ancestor to the current Occupy Wall Street movement that we see breaking out across the globe today. The idea was to bring poor people from across the color line -- white, black, brown, red, yellow -- to Washington to call attention to the importance of economic justice. King understood that economic justice -- distributive justice -- was not a matter of race in the United States.

It was true then, and it is true now that African Americans and Latino/as suffer disproportionately from income inequality. But it is important to remember that people of all colors suffer from the corrosive effects of income inequality. Some of the poorest communities in the country are European American. The poorest states in the United States with some of the worse educational and health care outcomes are states in the former confederacy.

Income inequality has increased since 1968. So the question that insists upon being answer is this: Why has income inequality worsened between 1968 and today?

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