As a transplant, I have come to love the South, to make it my home, to be my place of mission and residence. Its problems I have adopted as my own now. Its issues, mine. Its history… mine too. So I take part in the culpability of the below words, simultaneously knowing how wrong they are, but also knowing how easy it is to capitulate to the status quo for all people, Northerners and Southerners alike.
Below are words from several white clergymen essentially telling King to “settle down” in his protestings. What follows is his famous letter from a Birmingham jail (selections). I have cited this letter numerous times in the past in my sermons. A few things strike me (emphasis mine below):
- King’s corrective anthropology concerning the “strange, un-Biblical distinction (a dichotomy, really) between body and soul” is dead-on.
- The separation of social issues from the gospel – basically labeling it as “liberal” – is a tremendous disservice to our faith. Basically cut the hands and feet off the church. Just as long as we get our souls to heaven.
- The observation of some of the largest churches in the country – “massive religious-education buildings.” This I have seen with my own eyes. The Temples of God here are magnificent; beautiful – but are they places of justice or palaces of consumerism?
“A Call for Unity”
April 12, 1963
“We are now confronted by a series of demonstrations by some of our Negro citizens, directed and led in part by outsiders. We recognize the natural impatience of people who feel that their hopes are slow in being realized. But we are convinced that these demonstrations are unwise and untimely… We do not believe that these days of new hope are days when extreme measures are justified in Birmingham. We commend the community as a whole, and the local news media and law enforcement officials in particular, on the calm manner in which these demonstrations have been handled. We urge the public to continue to show restraint should the demonstrations continue, and the law enforcement officials to remain calm and continue to protect our city from violence. We further strongly urge our own Negro community to withdraw support from these demonstrations, and to unite locally in working peacefully for a better Birmingham. When rights are consistently denied, a cause should be pressed in the courts and in negotiations among local leaders, and not in the streets. We appeal to both our white and Negro citizenry to observe the principles of law and order and common sense.
“LETTER FROM BIRMINGHAM JAIL”
April 16, 1963
I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: “Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother.” In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul… I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious-education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?”