BY SARAH EDWARDS
Are we honoring Martin the man, or Martin the servant of the most high God?
As Christians we’ve been admonished to give “honor” unto whom “honor” is due. No one on the face of God’s good earth could deny that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is due honor, and not only in January and February but every day of the year.
Having lived in Atlanta during and after the Civil Rights Act; it appears that the church is no longer on the forefront of giving Dr. King the honor that’s due his name.
Not for his namesake, but rather what he represented and spoke from the abundance of his heart and to whom he spoke to. Dr. King spoke boldly to the government, the press, the church and the general public God’s vision that he had been entrusted with, which he dreamt about.
The Bible teaches us there is a great crowd of witness in heaven that continually encourages us [Hebrews 12]. Many of our ancestors are a part of that great crowd of witnesses. And I know for certainty that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a part of that great crowd of witnesses leaning over heaven’s balcony yelling: “how long, not long.”
Here are parts and parcels of his letter written to the church April 16, 1963 while confined in the Birmingham city jail:
“My Dear Fellow Clergymen: I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid. Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Justice 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. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.
There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws.
One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”
Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.
To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: “An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.” Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application.
I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.
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. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of their peace” and “outside agitators.”
But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” 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 arch defender 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.
But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.”
The Prophet Martin has plainly written God’s vision down for us who are called by His name to humble ourselves and pray, turn from our wicked ways, and seek God’s face and He/God will heal our land. Servants read it and run!