WORDS FROM BIRMINGHAM JAIL
To an acculturated and accommodated church, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote these words. He wrote them to us in Birmingham, from our jail, fifty years ago but the words ring true in the church today, perhaps in the church of any age, so let us reflect upon them again in our own day. Let us prayerfully reexamine our church on the basis of Dr. King’s eloquent rebuke of the church that has stopped being an outpost of the Kingdom of God and a sign of Jesus’ politics and instead has become merely the “sanction of things as they are.”
There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period when the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed in. 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. Wherever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators”. But they went on with the conviction that they were a “colony of heaven,” and had to obey God rather than man. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” They brought to an end such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest. Things are different now. The contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch supporter 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 vocal sanction of things as they are.
-- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by James Melvin Washington (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1986), pg. 300.
William H. Willimon
Please pray for our Annual Conference that meets on June 1-2 at ClearBranch United Methodist Church.