Sunday, January 20, 2008

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

Had he not been assassinated in April of 1968 it is possible that Dr. King would be alive today, and would have just celebrated his 79th birthday. It is difficult to imagine what he would think of the present state of race relations in America today.

He would certainly see that overt racism as characterized by the following section of his Letter from Birmingham Jail is no longer acceptable to many Americans. In 1963 he wrote:

We have waited .for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God- given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we stiff creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging dark of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six- year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross-county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness" then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. 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. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

Yet, at the same time I believe that he would strive against the covert racism that still pervades our society. Most people today don't voice the racial slurs and insults, but there are still too many who think these things, and worse yet act on them. Dr. King's dream is not yet realized. We have yet to "live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal'." Worse yet, this is not only an American problem, it is still, to some extent, and to our shame, a problem in our churches.

Today is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday and tomorrow is the Martin Luther King holiday. Both exist because of the assaults against the dignity of life that characterize our society. Both days should cause Christians to examine our hearts and confess our sins of devaluing the worth of people whether by neglect, greed, hatred, anger, racism, or selfishness.

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