Monday, January 19, 2015

Martin Luther King, Jr. on the Role of the Church in Pursuing Justice

Photo Credit: caboindex
Taken from "Letter from a Birmingham Jail":
"In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists. 
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 the 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 archdefender 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. 
Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. 
But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment. I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. 
But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America's destiny. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation -and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands."
To read the complete letter, please click here.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Selma: A Movie Worth Seeing

Photo Credit: Sahil Khan
My wife and I saw Ava DuVernay's Selma last night. Focused on the voting rights efforts that took place in a small Alabama town in 1965, Selma provides a powerful glimpse into the leadership of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights movement that transformed our country.

One of the things that I appreciated most about the movie was that Dr. King was not presented as a perfect, Messiah-type of figure. DuVernay shows us King as the noble leader that he was but doesn't ignore some of the more unsavory aspects of his personal life of which many modern day Americans are unaware.

Similar to towering figures of the Bible such as King David or Simon Peter, Dr. King was an imperfect person that made himself available for God to do great things through him. Though obviously gifted as an orator and leader, Dr. King was just a man. But he was a man that was willing to sacrifice his personal comfort -- and eventually his life -- so that freedom and dignity could come to all women and men.

In focusing on King's humanity, Selma demonstrates the difference that fallen people can make in our world when submitted to God's service.

One of the scenes that I found most moving took place fairly early on in the film. King (played brilliantly by the talented David Oyelowo) finds himself alone late at night in the family kitchen. It is obvious that he is feeling the weight of his call while dealing with the stresses of family life in the midst of preparing to leave for yet another march. He slowly walks to the phone and places a call to the noted gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson. He asks her to sing for him over the phone. Though she had been in a deep sleep just seconds before, she breaks into a powerful chorus of "Precious Lord Take My Hand":
Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I'm tired, I'm weak, I'm worn
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home
Just like us, Dr. King needed God's strength to do what God had called him to do. As we prepare to celebrate the MLK federal holiday this weekend, Selma provides a fitting reminder of how far our country has come...and how far we still have to go.

Jason Cook has provided a fuller review of the movie on The Gospel Coalition website. Here's a highlight:
"Selma does not cower away from the physical and emotional brutality of the struggle for African American voting rights in Selma, Alabama, during a three-month period in 1965. By concentrating on this historical vignette, Selma shines. 
Rather than approaching this biopic as a quest to compile the highlights of a venerated figure’s life, Selma director Ava DuVernay focuses on a tiny window of history that changed history. SCLC uniforms (black suits, white shirts, and thin black ties) and scarred stoic faces juxtaposed against the pressed and unkempt uniforms of police officers and state troopers as they clash throughout the film in raw and ugly dispute. 
Further, Selma does not cower from exposing the moral failings of Dr. Martin Luther King. While the impact of Dr. King’s leadership of the Civil Rights movement is magnanimous and will rightly reverberate into history, he suffered from the common condition of profound creaturliness. This fellowship with mere mortals is a surprising strength of the film. Dr. King appears, well, human. 
Throughout Selma he’s tired from long nights, distracted by threats to his family, fearful for the lives of the faithful, and doubtful concerning the ultimate end of the movement—a side of “Doc” we seldom see in grainy microfiche. The film tastefully addresses his smoking habit, his insatiable appetite for food, and his covert sexual promiscuity. Raw and honest, DuVernay portrays a terrestrial Dr. King who is pedestrian at worst and valiant at best—all the while honoring him as a towering historical figure worthy of remembrance."
To read the full review, please click here.

I highly encourage you to see this film. To find tickets for your local theater, please visit here. The dream lives on.