As we look back on the leader of the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. we see struggle, violence, hatred, intolerance and cowardice. It does not take a Biblical Scholar to see the fault in cowardice on behalf of the Christian community. On April 16th, 1963, Dr. King was arrested during a march for some fabricated infringements and landed in a Birmingham, Alabama jail. While in jail, Dr. King wrote what would famously become known as, “Letters from a Birmingham Jail.” The accusations should have shaken the church forever.
In no verse or passage does the Bible ever reveal that the Christian has space for cowardice in their walk. Conversely, the entire message of the Gospel and first century story shows Jesus and His disciples being killed for taking the Gospel to people. They did not compromise, they did not hold back the message of Christ, they did not stand by idly while injustices were carried out. This practice should have continued over the next 2000 years. However, the church had become very weak, apostate and were cowards from the pew to the pulpit.
In Dr. King’s letter, he responds to white clergy members who publicly explain the marches and King’s leadership as, “extremism.” His response, “Disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist.” These clergymen thought that Dr. King and his fellow marchers should just sit by and let time dissolve the racial injustices that had plagued the black community for 200 years. They were unwilling to make statements and stand out, for fear that they would be discriminated against for taking sides with the black community. Dr. King brings truth that calls out the very foundation of their faith, “Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”
How did these clergymen ever get to this place? The Apostle Paul explains that he has given up his own rights as a follower of Christ. He also teaches us that he exercises control and has a deliberate goal. “So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.” (1 Corinthians 9: 26) Paul exercised his faith deliberately. Is this not the call that our clergy should have? Is this not the lesson our clergy should be teaching us?
If you find yourself sitting in a very nice church with an amazing worship session filled with lights and fog machines. If you find yourself enjoying the earth tones of the perfectly decorated sanctuary and church coffee shop. If you find yourself in a home group, sharing delicious food and drink with non-invasive fellowship and words of encouragement. If all these things describe your church experience, maybe you have not understood the message that Christ brought. Maybe you have not understood the cost. One of the most overly used verses in the Bible, John 15:13, shows us how we should be loving our neighbors, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” John take the opportunity in his epistle to go deeper by saying that we do not even know love unless we are laying out lives down for our brothers and sisters. (1 John 3:16)
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s words should hit all of the Christian church like a 12-pound hammer. It should shake us to the core. What are we doing as a church to feed and clothe those who are in need? (Matthew 25: 35-40) Are we, “Commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distress, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger?” We, the church, should be asking ourselves these questions daily.
How does this apply to the modern warrior? Simple. Imagine training your whole career in the skills of a warfighter. You run, swim and do pushups, shoot your gun, jump from planes, dive in the darkest of waters. You endure hardships that most civilians could never imagine getting yourself to be the fastest, strongest, smartest warrior on the battlefield. But when the battle happens, you stand by and watch the carnage as those beside you are killed. You do nothing.
As Christians, we are called to stand for the oppressed. We are called to make difficult decisions. We are called to endure hardship as we share the Gospel. We are called to be merciful. (Matthew 5:7) Are we answering the call?
As we all reflect on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today, let it motivate us to leave the safety and comfort of our churches and homes. Let it motivate us to leave the comfort of our social circles. Stand up for someone who needs your strength. The strength you have in Christ. Remember him for being a martyr for his cause and a faithful man of God.
Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all the unfortunate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy. – Proverbs 31: 8-9