Civil rights are a serious matter, especially in the South where many gruesome attacks took place so many years ago. A person’s life and liberty are serious issues, but I think sometimes their importance gets lost against a backdrop of what have been at times serious differences and misunderstandings among White and Black people, especially here in the South. Martin Luther King, Jr. was obviously a courageous man who stood up for his and others’ rights and beliefs. He had been taught his morals and beliefs in church by his father and grandfather. Somewhere, though, in the back of my mind, I have always thought maybe Martin Luther King Jr. was being somewhat of a belly-aching whiner about the whole segregation issue. After reading A Call for Unity and Letter from a Birmingham Jail, however, I have gained much more respect for him and can even relate to many of the issues he so adamantly addressed, in particular, the involvement of the church in overcoming segregation.
One point of King’s response letter is how astonishing it was to him that many churches became “outright opponents” of the movement toward equality. He thought that because Christianity had survived and prospered because of extremists in its history that the church should support his goals. He expected the church to be one of their “strongest allies.” He made many references to people in the Bible that were “extremists” in their own rights. After thinking upon those instances myself, I realized that his words could not be any truer. Jesus, himself, was an extremist when he preached that his followers should love their enemies. I find it very disconcerting that the church, the very entity that should exist to reach out to those who are downtrodden and suffering, could so easily oppose the very things it preaches.
In addition to many churches admonishing the African Americans’ efforts to gain true, fair integration, King found it more disappointing that most churches chose to remain completely silent to their efforts. Many ministers said, “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” I find myself empathizing with King’s reactions. What kind of true Christians would actually believe that? How could they completely ignore something so severe as the issue of violence and hatred towards other human beings? It is absolutely appalling to me that the church, the “body of Christ,” would do something so weak as hiding behind “the security of stained glass windows.”
I have yet to gain complete understanding about why people felt so strongly about keeping this country so segregated. I am not sure that anyone can understand now exactly why it was so important then. I may also not fully grasp all of Martin Luther King Jr’s ideals and feelings toward desegregation. I do, however, understand his disappointment and frustration with the churches in the South. That is, being let down by the very institution that you should be able to cling to in times of trouble. King was not a whiner, but rather a hurting man who felt betrayed by the institution he had been taught to revere.