Monday, January 18, 2010

What kind of people worship here?

Food for thought. From the "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" by Martin Luther King, Jr.:

When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leader era; an too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.

In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

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, on Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

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?"

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. 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? l 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.


Russell said...

Not sure his theological argument is right. The gospel definitely speaks to racial hatred and says it is sin and wickedness. I don't believe the bible calls Christians to break a bad law.

Christina said...

Russell -- yeah. David and I were talking about that this morning, too... and how of course, there would be a difference between breaking a law that required that one sin versus one that was simply a bad idea.

Regardless of the breaking laws issue, there are many, many "Christians" who won't take a stand on "social" issues, and I believe that was the main part of the "food for thought."

A dear friend of mine was pretty shell-shocked recently when realizing that there are local churches who refuse to take a side on the abortion issue, feeling that by stating that abortion is wrong would somehow damage their ability to love their attendees. It shows how off churches are today when making one feel comfortable is more important that reconciling one to God.

And with that connection, when watching the "I have a dream" speech this morning, I couldn't help but long for an America that would reject abortion and stand side by side for freedom and justice for the unborn.

May His will be done!

David said...

As Christina notes, the Bible does call Christians to break some laws. But the civil disobedience debate isn't primarily what Martin Luther King is addressing in his criticism of church leaders here. Rather, it's the weakness of a church that ignores or rationalizes injustice but is quick to fault-find the methods of those who seek to challenge it. These Christians could have done a lot to challenge the status quo and love their black brothers and sisters without breaking a single law. Most did little or nothing.

Those who love Christ should love as Christ did. Love is not limited to preaching on Sundays. That seems to be the point Martin Luther King, Jr. is making in this excerpt.

Russell said...

Not making a distinction between church and Christians is a dangerous mistake.

The danger is most evident in Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy. He is among the greatest Americans who have ever lived and has no real public connection to Christ.

A wonderful political legacy but a pretty pitiful ministerial legacy.

Too often Christians act as if the bible doesn't speak to methods. It does. King's disappointment with the church is really an argument with God about the activity he wants the church engaged in.

Abortion, adoption, homelessness, foster kids, and environmentalism are just a short list of causes that people would like to enlist the church in. The church should address those issues via the gospel and equipping the saints for the work of ministry. The more direct policy engagement that king envisioned is wrong.

Christina said...

Certainly the methodology of how the church (body of Christ) is involved in these issues is up for discussion, yet at least in the letter that David quoted from, there was one pastor that King did commend. He did not commend him for breaking laws or picketing or making public statements against racism. He commended this pastor for welcoming blacks into his church along side of his white attendees. It is obvious that this simple act of love and unity was missing in many "churches".

I'm not arguing for the church to be actively involving itself in and against government policy. I'm simply arguing that there is a "right and wrong" in all these issues and that Christians should be thinking biblically and acting accordingly... Not simply as society and government dictates. =) I know you guys are on the same page with that argument!

David said...

Russell, take a look at Websters..."church" has several different definitions, one of which is "the whole body of Christians."

For the moment, put aside your objections to King's beliefs and methodology. That's not the most important issue here. The question posed by this blog post is "What kind of people worship here?" Your answer so far seems to be true Christians that were following a biblical methodology. These folks were able to conveniently ignore racism because they were instead focused on equipping the saints for the work of ministry.

But it seems to me that this wasn't really happening. Faith without works is dead. Where were the works of the many Christians in the South who attended the many churches in the South? Shouldn't gospel proclamation and disciplemaking eventually impact real life? Shouldn't Christians in the South have been known for being different from the world?

Could it be that Christians then, just like Protestants and Catholics in Haiti and elsewhere today, were 100% voodoo? (i.e. clinging to old, unbiblical superstitions)

Show me a culture with many steeples where social ills are rampant, and I'll show you a weak church.

Russell said...


Russell said...

Wanted to make sure we weren't commenting past each other.

I amen your argument that southern believers should have engaged in the civil rights movement using lawful protest.

I don't want first southern church to be an anti-segregation church. And second southern church to be a pro-segregation church. Both are in horrible postions. The pro-segregation church is in gross sin. The anti-segregation church is in grave danger.

King was a great civil rights leader and a failure as a minister.

David said...

Thanks for the clarification, Russell. It seem we be all on the same page, just making different points. Hopefully it was a edifying exercise for all, regardless.