Monday, January 17, 2011

MLK: The world is a neighborhood but not a brotherhood

Today in America we honor and celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. by observing this day as a holiday. There were many things King did to fight injustice and stand up for the weak, which had tremendous impacts on American history.
Image Source
Image Source
His greatest work was not for American history, however, but for God's kingdom. This letter, written November 4, 1956, is still a relevant message for American Christians today, some 50-plus years later. Many would argue that much of America's advances in civil rights were founded on Dr. King's efforts; but do you know that the motivation behind his efforts were Bible-based? Do you know that by agreeing with King's call for a peaceful, loving, sharing society you are agreeing with the ministry of Jesus Christ and God's eternal plan for shalom?

Read for yourself to see what great things God asks of His people, and then ask yourself (if you are a Christian) if you are obediently following. If you're not a Christian, does the kind of culture King describes appeal to you? It may be surprising that Christianity sounds more "American" than any other modern description of this nation.


Ryan Hofer said...

Wow this was really interesting to read, especially his indictment of Capitalism. This same issue is coming up today, only the inequalities are becoming more blatant. I also liked how he described the experience of living simultaneously in heaven and earth. Strange how he calls for all the sects of Christianity to be joined into one group, rejecting the authority of Roman Catholicism, while at the same time suggesting that Christianity can then be the solution to moral relativism. Also the idea that spiritual and moral progress ought to somehow "keep up" with scientific progress is confusing because that would suggest an absolute moralism we can get to.

Matt Guerino said...

Great link, thanks Aaron. I hadn't read that before.

Ryan: note that King does not indict Capitalism. He actually goes out of his way to point out that communism (economic socialism) is completely unacceptable. Rather, King (rightly) indicts the misuse of Capitalism. The economic system is not the problem, but the lack of moral vision in the populace. He couldn't be more right on there in my view.

I also don't see him calling for a mega-merger of all sects of Christianity. For example he notes specifically that the number of Protestant denominations is not the problem. Rather, the problem is sectarian and superior attitudes on the part of so many members of these denominations. Again the problem (as with the economic point above) is not in the external structures and therefore his proposed solution isn't either. The problem lies in the hearts of men, and his proposed solution is that people take seriously the Gospel of Jesus. Especially those of us who profess to follow it.

Ryan Hofer said...

Ah yes, he writes that perhaps America will misuse Capitalism, and that in fact America often has. He writes about what Communism is based on, and that no Christian can accept this, but he doesn't write about what Capitalism is based on. I guess that would be private ownership of the means of production, prices and wages, and goods made for profit in a free market (thanks Wikipedia). Hopefully this next century will see Americans changing the economic inequalities in our country for the better. Matt, did you mean a moral vision outside of the economic pathways we have today? One amazing thing about the Civil Rights Movement was that it had a moral vision connected with clearly defined changes in the legal, educational, and social practices of America.

And it does seem he is against sectarianism, not necessarily wanting everyone to be all the same, but wanting to stop arguments over who has the absolute truth. I see that is different than one big group as I wrote previously. I suppose the tricky thing is that an organized religion which claims absolute truth may tend to clump into small groups which claim absolute truth. How do you know who to listen to and follow? That would be a long discussion, but it seems to me this has been dealt with, in a way, by separating church from politics, science, and law, among other ways of societal conduct. While this is effective, it can still leave people feeling disconnected, and I think this is where I try to live my daily life in a human and empathic way, with an awareness of myself and others. But this letter was written to people struggling as a group against an oppressive system, and King was a powerful personality for bringing about needed change.

Aaron said...

Ryan: What King is trying to do is exactly what the Christian church has been called to do: tune all of our pitches to the fork of Christ, so that we become unified in our purpose (to use Tozer's word-picture). In other words, King argues that the only way America can change in any capacity for the better is by holding to a moral vision, which King explicitly defines as the absolute truth found in Christianity. If everyone is focused on following Jesus as He described how He should be followed, then we all would be listening to and following in the same direction. We may still have differences in form or process, but in following Christ we would not allow those differences to divide us - in fact, we would be allowed to appreciate them even more.

Ryan Hofer said...

The circularity is disturbing; if we're all correct, then we are all going in the same direction? We know we're correct when we're all heading in the same direction? Maybe it can work in an ambiguous formulation of values, in small faith communities, but not as a nation-state philosophy (except in times of war), nor as a market system. Well, at least right now. Maybe that is a shame, but there are lots of questions in here about how decisions are made. One criticism about social relation systems is that the leaders produced, and the decisions that get made, are in a large way determined by the systems that put them into authority. But I'm not part of the church you are attending, so maybe you are referring to the localized faith journey going on there and I don't want to conflate what you wrote. Thinking about this really makes me want to read Leslie Newbigin's "Gospel in a Pluralist Society." Have you read any of his books? Also, I've been thinking about appreciation as a detached way of knowing and being. It could be seen as a priveleged way of relating to art, or to other people, or to "lower" social classes. I'm saying that in my life right now I am trying to consider how I relate to other people and things I see as desirable or beautiful. I'm looking for something other than appreciation, something that is me, Ryan, on the same level so that I can participate in a coherent vision of daily life. Moral vision does not provide that for me. In a way, moral superiority kills what I am seeking; it creates the problem it purports to solve. And this is different than talking about ethics, and how government can be conducted in an equitable way. One really amazing thing about King is that he was able to bring the fervor of his faith community to bear on a particular and focused problem in American society. How tragic that his life ended abruptly through violence.

Oh, now I've spent 30 minutes writing on this blog when I was going to do homework. Thanks for your regular postings!

Aaron said...

No, we're not all correct. We're all wrong and only Christ is correct. So we need to tune ourselves to His pitch, check and double-check it, and when we find it matching His we will also find ourselves moving together in the same direction as one body.

Ryan, it sounds like you're searching for yourself - your identity. Something that will satisfy you. The problem, though, is that it sounds like you're searching within temporal and aesthetic things that are subjective. These are problematic because they change and have no lasting value. What one generation calls beautiful or successful, the next will call savage (to paraphrase Chesterton). Here, we find ourselves stuck within ourselves.

Again, the solution is to seek something absolute, objective, and eternal. This is the only way to true soul satisfaction because where we find that which is greater than ourselves, we transcend ourselves (another Chesterton paraphrase).

The thing you admire about King is that he lived his life according to the eternal (God), which had significant impacts on his thinking, his morals and ethics, and ultimately his ministry for civil rights. There's something about what he stood for that every American appreciates and desires - and that's because he stood for values that God created and are right. Absolutely, objectively, unchangeably true.

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