News and Views

King's message still challenges church today

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By Rev. Tony Hunt

This year marks the 90th anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birth, and the 51st year after his assassination on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tenn. As was the case in 1968, the nation and world today are wrought with social, economic, political and religious upheaval. Over the past several years, in the United States and across the globe, we have become more divided along various lines. In the U.S., the social and political division that we now experience is not really new, but it challenges our sense of normalcy in ways that perhaps we have not been challenged in the past. 

In April 1963, King wrote a letter to eight clergymen in Birmingham, Ala., which has come to be known as the Letter from the Birmingham Jail. On August 28 of the same year, at the urging of gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, who shouted to King to “Tell them about the Dream Martin!”, he delivered the concluding recitation in what has come to be known as the “I Have a Dream” speech. 

In the Birmingham letter and Washington, D.C., speech, King most demonstratively outlined that his singular vision was for the realization of the Beloved Community. King’s assessment in the Letter from Birmingham Jail was that churches had been found wanting in the sphere of prophetic witness, and had too often remained complicit in their silence and inaction. He stated that “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state.” And he further stated that, “There comes a time when silence becomes betrayal.”

In the “I Have a Dream” speech, King described to the world his dream of the Beloved Community, when girls and boys of all races could play together and go to school together, and where people would be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.

And so today, we might then wonder what Martin Luther King, Jr. would have to say if he were to write a letter to America. Here might be King’s letter to America in 2019:

Dear America:

I greet you in the Agapic Love of Christ our Savior. I pray that all of you who now dwell in what is deemed to be the land of the free and the home of the brave find yourselves reasonably well.

In looking back over the more than 50 years since my last address at Mason Temple Church of God in Christ, in Memphis, Tennessee, on the night of April 3, 1968, and my assassination on a balcony at the Lorraine Motel at 6:01 p.m. the following evening, much has occurred in America. 

Much of the progress that was eventuated up to my death, as seen in the passing of national Civil Rights and Voting Rights legislation, seemed to come to full fruition with the election of Barack H. Obama in 2008 as the 44th President of the United States, the first African American to hold the nation’s highest office.

  And yet, subsequent years have seen the heightened emergence (or re-emergence) of evils such as racism, classism, sexism and misogyny, homophobia, war and terror that have served to divide much of society, and even large segments of the churches.

I remind you of what I deemed to be the “triplets of evil” – racism, classism/poverty, and war – and that these continue in many ways to encumber America’s progress as a nation.

In light of the challenges that confront you, I remind you to remain cognizant that, as I also shared during my life, there is a certain collective force among those of you who are committed to living the sentiments of the prophet Micah to “love kindness, do justice and walk humbly with God.” (Micah 6:8)

As I stated, “For when people get caught up with that which is right, and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory.”    

America, in light of all that now fractures you, like immigration at your borders and violence on many of your city’s streets, I want to also remind you of how each of you has been created. The nature of humanity is that you have all been created by the same God, and God loves all of that which has been divinely created.

Therefore, I remind you of the inherent worth and “somebodyness” in each of you. As I shared years ago, “all life is interrelated.” All of life is part of a single process; all living things are interrelated; and all persons are sisters and brothers. Because all of you are interrelated, one cannot harm another without harming oneself. 

There is a great deal more I can share, but I will conclude my letter by encouraging you to never give up hoping.

Regarding hope, I remind you of my past sentiments that “hope is the refusal to give up despite overwhelming odds,” and that hope is “animated and undergirded by faith and love.” Remember, if you have hope, you have faith in something. 

Never forget my words on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963, in the dream that I shared with the nation on that day that there would someday be "hewn out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”

My dream for you, America, remains the same as it was almost 56 years ago. As always, I pray that your best days and most blessed days are not behind you, but in your future.

With Agapic Love,

Your Brother, Martin

(The Rev. Tony Hunt serves as pastor at Epworth Chapel UMC in Baltimore.)

Judy Davies Jan 14, 2019 2:39pm

Thanks for the message of hope and a reminder that there comes a time when silence become betrayal. May his light give us strength.