Today we celebrate the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was a man best known as a crusader for justice on behalf of his people, and he is worthy of being remembered just for this work. Yet 42 years after his death, with a black man elected President, hasn’t Dr King’s work been accomplished? If we take some time on this day to understand the what Dr. King was about, both as a preacher and leader, we can see that the calling he gave us is never really finished.
The stories came back to me, as they always do, when my children were frustrated by the noise they heard coming off of the news. The horror of Haiti was labeled by one prominent preacher as retribution for breaking God’s Law. My kids wanted to know how someone could follow a religion so hurtful and nasty. As usual, the only way to teach them the truth was to set aside the chatter and nonsense and read the Book. It was time for some Bible study to subversively see for ourselves what God actually had to say.
I’m not much of a Christian myself, but I do know my Bible. I do not like it when it is twisted, and I want my kids to understand at least that much.
For the day’s lesson, I decided that my kids needed to understand the Law of God and how the Beatitudes added a sense of grace to it. We started with Exodus and Law that God gave directly to Moses – the part that comes after the first 10 Laws that Gentiles usually gloss over:
“Do not spread false reports. Do not help a wicked man by being a malicious witness.
“Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, and do not show favoritism to a poor man in his lawsuit.
“If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it.
“Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty.
“Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the righteous.
“Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt.”
Once again, this is the Law that was handed directly from God to Moses on a chilly mountaintop shielded from the rest of the world by clouds and smoke. It can be summed up in one simple lesson that was expounded on by Jesus much later – “The Law is about Justice and decency.”
Dr. King was a preacher whose people faced innumerable injustices. He understood that law, as a series of rules, can be twisted into a systematic oppression. But Dr. King also knew that God was very clear that this was, in itself, a violation of the Law. We didn’t even have to get into the teachings of Jesus before it was clear that the Law of God, handed down from ancient times, was always intended to be an instrument of justice.
The short version: to fight injustice is to take up the calling given by directly by God to Moses on the mountaintop.
To understand the peaceful struggle for justice as a calling is to understand Dr. King in totality. The cause is not about rights for one group or another, but the basic decency that everyone is entitled to, no matter how poor they are or what nation they come from.
This lesson means something very different on this day than it did while Dr. King was alive. We can tolerate injustice in Haiti and other nations, even make excuses for it, because they appear alien and strange to us. Dr. King’s teaching, once you get to know him, would be clear on this topic. But the urgency of his message comes when the pathetic excuses for inaction and injustice are made in the name of the Laws of God.
It is easy to imagine Dr. King looking down upon us and smiling that we have accomplished so much in this land. We do have much to be proud of. But the greater mission of Dr. King, to fight injustice in all forms as a calling, shows that he would not be pleased by everything in our world. There is still work to do, as there always is. That’s what Dr. King would want us to understand on this day set aside for him.
Thank you. The Bible has been so perverted – yes, perverted – by people who use it for evil. We have to speak out against this – all of us. What better day to do it than this one – that celebrates who may be the best known pastor of recent times.
That was just a crappy thing for Robertson to say, but it’s not that different than what he said after 9/11. But as usual it seems like you have a bigger point to make. I think I like it because people always fight over this and that in the Bible but seem to really miss the big picture. I’d like to see you weigh in on this more often.
I don’t mean to dwell on the irresponsible comments made by one person. At the very least, I was heartened by the fact that they were roundly criticized by many, many people.
However, I want people to understand why my daughter at times sees Christianity as a loathsome religion that attracts the very worst elements of indecency and hatred. I have taken it as my mission to show her what is in the Bible and how people who say these awful things clearly have not read the book – or at least never taken it to heart.
This always winds up being a small act of rebellion on my part, teaching my daughter such subversive ideas. The truth, it seems, has taken on a very subversive quality.
I think that on Martin Luther King Day we should make this clear. This is a day for a higher calling and service. Truth, Justice, and Decency should never be this subversive.
Happy MLK Day! It’s not so subversive anymore. Don’t let a few nasty people ruin things for everyone else, especially not on a holiday. 🙂
Robertson is the reason why so many people don’t like organized religion, me included. He uses the Bible to rest on while he spouts his own evil. To me that man is just pure evil. Beliving in the Bible, as I do, he will meet up with his judgement. And it won’t be pretty!
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Seems to me that organized religion is morally neutral. It can be used to advocate for good (King) or evil (Robertson). In the last few years the public fact of Christianity has, sadly, been more loudly aligned with the forces of darkness. But, then, I tend to see religion as something created by humans to meet their own psychological needs. If one thought there was a higher being in charge, things might look different….
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