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MLK is Our Day Posted 1.15.2016

Tomorrow we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  It is a federal holiday, and as of the year 2000, every state recognizes it.  Established in 1983, it is the newest addition to the annual holiday lineup. King is the only American besides George Washington who is currently recognized with an observed federal holiday.

 

For us in the church, we ought to make a much bigger deal of this holiday than we do.  Why?  First, Martin Luther King Jr. is one of us.  He’s a pastor.  A follower of Jesus.  How many holidays are dedicated to a pastor?  We’ve got a couple for saints (Valentine and Patrick), but whatever Christian origin those holidays had they’re now drowned in romantic love and beer.  And it is still considered a little tacky for marketers to use MLK to sell their wares.

 

The second reason this holiday should be a big deal for us is that this holiday represents the heart of God.  Unfortunately, I think the pace of Christmas and New Year’s is just too much for churches to recover from in order to swing back around for Martin Luther King Jr. Day a few weeks later. This day is not just about racial equality. This day is about justice. And this world is full of people who need it. Just as when King used them in his messages, may these words from Amos 5:21-24 (The Message) compel us to action:

 

“I can’t stand your religious meetings. I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals. I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making. I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music. When was the last time you sang to me? Do you know what I want? I want justice–oceans of it. I want fairness–rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want.”

 

Dr. King drove the message home for churches, long before “The Message” was even around:  ““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 never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority. If the church does not participate actively in the struggle for peace and for economic and racial justice, it will forfeit the loyalty of millions and cause men everywhere to say that it has atrophied its will. But if the church will free itself from the shackles of a deadening status quo, and, recovering its great historic mission, will speak and act fearlessly and insistently in terms of justice and peace, it will enkindle the imagination of mankind and fire the souls of men, imbuing them with a glowing and ardent love for truth, justice, and peace. Men far and near will know the church as a great fellowship of love that provides light and bread for lonely travellers at midnight.”

 

We tend to look back on the civil rights movement with rose-colored glasses. It was a just cause and simply inevitable, right? Wrong. King went to jail. While sitting there, he wrote a letter and referenced the many Christians who stood silent:  “All too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.”

 

While the church may be able to claim the greatest civil rights hero of the 20th century, we’re also complicit in the injustice King stood against. For all the marches and lunch counter sit-ins, there were also “kneel-ins” targeting segregated churches.  The ‘bad guys’ weren’t just swinging batons and firebombing buses. Churches barred the doors and wouldn’t let people in.

 

The Church must own our broken past and work for a better future.


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