MLK Jr on a Christian Humanism

MLK Jr on a Christian Humanism February 25, 2018

On the intersection of Christianity, humanism, and social justice, Martin Luther King Jr’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail is a must read. An immensely important fact to consider was to whom the letter was addressed: “My Dear Fellow Clergymen”. His aim was to address the criticisms from the church that his actions were “unwise” and “untimely”, but it went much further than an apologia. Like Paul’s letters to the Church, MLK’s letter was calling of the Church to true discipleship. In this case, turning a blind eye to racial segregation and failing to take non-violent action is failing to actualize the call of the Teacher.

Failure to act towards ending injustice is failure of discipleship. “It’s not the right time” is simply ignoring the call. The time is always now for discipleship. In his words:

“Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.”

In his letter, he puts forward a powerful call for a Christian humanism; that a Christianity without a Christ-inspirted humanism is not Christianity:

“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, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.”

In no uncertain terms, Christianity fails to become one’s belief if the becoming is absent. It is contra-Christian to sit idly by and insist Christ has no concern on racism, evil, and injustice in the world. To maintain such a worldview is to render a Christ-less religion. The call of true discipleship is a bold one to follow Jesus in being an “extremist for love”. Otherwise, in MLK Jr’s words, “if today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.”

And so a reminder to us all, the metaphysical and creedal “being” of a Christian, is nothing without “the becoming”. Creed, without Christ-centered action and humanism, is just religion. Forever short we will fall of the triune realization of perfect discipleship, but forever we will strive. So help us God.

Image credit: Dick DeMarsico, World Telegram staff photographer

Source: Wikimedia Commons


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