Posts Tagged Martin Luther King Jr.

The Christian Siege Mentality on Display

At Capitol, a Day of Muslim Prayer and Unity

3,000 Gather to Combat Fear and ‘Do the Work of Allah’ Amid Christian Protests

By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 26, 2009

Nearly 3,000 people gathered on the west lawn of the Capitol on Friday for a mass Muslim prayer service that was part religion and part pep rally for the beleaguered U.S. Muslim community.

As faint shouts of “Repent!” from Christian protesters floated across the gathering, dozens of long rows of men in robes and white knit caps and women in head coverings prostrated themselves to God, gave praise and listened to sermons as part of the congregational prayer that occurs about noon Fridays.

“Stop being so scared!” thundered Imam Abdul Malik of New York. “You ain’t done nothing wrong. Just do the work of Allah, and believe.”

The service comes as the Muslim community has been rocked by verbal attacks from conservative Christians that have grown stronger since the election of President Obama and by the recent arrests in a terrorism investigation involving several Muslim men, including an imam.

“We wanted to bring people out to show you don’t need to fear America,” said Imam Ali Jaaber of Dar-ul-Islam mosque in Elizabeth N.J., the service’s main organizer. At the same time, he said, he wanted to remind non-Muslims that “we are decent Muslims. We work; we pay taxes. We are Muslims who truly love this country.”

Across the street from the service, Christian protesters gathered with banners, crosses and anti-Islamic messages. One group, which stood next to a 10-foot-tall wooden cross and two giant wooden tablets depicting the Ten Commandments, was led by the Rev. Flip Benham of Concord, N.C.

“I would suggest you convert to Christ!” Benham shouted over a megaphone. Islam “forces its dogma down your throat.” A few Christian protesters gathered at the rear of the Muslim crowd, holding Bibles and praying.

At one point, organizers asked them to tone it down.

“We would never come to a prayer meeting that you have to make a disturbance,” Hamad Chebli, imam of the Islamic Society of Central Jersey, said from the lectern. “Please show us some respect. This is a sacred moment. Just as your Sunday is sacred, our Friday is sacred.”

For some time now I’ve been a firm believer that the world needs a stronger ecumenical  movement.  For the church to be the Church there needs to be more understanding and cooperation among the world’s Christians.

But, as the above story illustrates, Christian ecumenicalism is not enough in this day and age. Christians need to tear down the walls of their siege mentality and build bridges to all the world’s religions –if the world is to survive.  We need to go beyond the well intentioned movement to “Coexist”, where we respect each others differences, and work towards a “Comingling” in which we celebrate those things we have in common: a belief in God, a call to service and and the desire to treat others as we would want them to treat us.

What the world doesn’t need are more Christians ramming their dogma down the throats of others. But respecting the rights of others to exist alongside us is not enough. This is a good start, but it will never break the bonds of fear and prejudice that are strangling this nation and the world.   We need to join in common cause. We need to break bread together, laugh together and cry together. We need to pray together.

As Martin Luther King Jr. so prophetically said, in the letter he wrote while imprisoned in Birmingham, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”


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Faith and Work

The following prayer was composed and recited by Dr. Martin Luther King over 50 years ago. I think it is especially meaningful on the eve of this historic inauguration; of the first black man to the presidency of the United States. The long night of the past certainly has been very long for a great many Americans, but a great bright hope has finally been realized. One particular passage stands out to me, and I have highlighted it. Embodied within this prayer is the notion that prayer itself is not enough, that God also calls us to action. At times the goal may seem impossible,  just as a black president must have seemed impossible to many in 1956. But King and other civil rights leaders decided to take the long view of things, the view that God most certainly must have. They not only prayed for justice, they worked hard for it.

We come to today, grateful that thou hast kept us through the long night of the past and ushered us into the challenge of the present and the bright hope of the future.
We are mindful, O God, that man cannot save himself, for man is not the measure of things and humanity is not God.
Bound by our chains of sin and finiteness, we know we need a Savior.
Help us never to let anybody or any condition pull us so low as to cause us to hate.
Give us strength to love our enemies and to do good to those who despitefully use us and persecute us.

We thank thee for thy Church, founded up on they Word, that challenges us to do more than sing and prayer, but go out and work as though the very answer to our prayers depended on us and not upon thee.
Then, finally, help us to realize that man was created to shine like the stars. And live on through all eternity.
Keep us, we pray, in perfect peace, help us to walk together, pray together, sing together, and live together until that day when all God’s children, Black, White, Red, and Yellow will rejoice in one common band of humanity in the kingdom of our Lord and of God, we pray.


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The Most Sincere Flattery

bearing-the-cross.jpgHe was a successful and prosperous man living in a time when his countrymen suffered at the hands of an oppressive government. He benefited from the education, wealth and prosperity that came from being a member of a semi-elite socio-religious class within the ranks of the oppressed, a class reluctantly in collusion with their political masters. He was zealous in his dedication to the law and in no time he had made a name for himself among his people, as well as with his people’s masters.

At some point though, he experienced a change of heart. He began to talk of another way, a way of liberty and justice for his people, encouraging them to share community in a peaceful and loving manner. He gave up the trappings that came with his class and took up a much simpler and more modest way of living.

Adopting a nomadic lifestyle, he travelled the length and breadth of the land, speaking about and writing his ideas for a better way of life. He taught his people the means to accomplish this; means that were based upon the teachings of one Jesus of Nazareth. Although preaching peace and freedom, he soon gained the attention of the authorities, who, fearing he was becoming too popular among the masses, had him arrested repeatedly on charges of treason and civil disobedience. He spent much of his adult life in courtrooms and jail cells but even outside of prison walls he suffered profoundly for his beliefs. He was ridiculed, harassed, harangued and beaten. Eventually he was murdered. The growing and enthusiastic response to the good news that he spread across the land finally convinced his oppressors to repent of their ways, opening the doors to freedom for his people.

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Dr.King’s Prophetic Condemnation of the Church

King in JailAmericans (some begrudgingly) recognize Dr. Martin Luther King as the leader who was the driving force behind the Civil Rights Movement. Few of them may recognize him as one of the few Biblical prophets of modern times, much less a martyr for the Gospel. What follows is an excerpt from his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail“, in which he responds to criticisms of his campaign for civil disobedience, as expressed by some leading religious leaders of the South. If you have never done so I recommend that you read the entirety of this important letter, especially if you claim to follow Jesus.

Let me take note of my other major disappointment. I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some notable exceptions….

But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.

When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the ministers, priests, and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.

In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: “Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother.” 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 otherworldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi, and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious-education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips for Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?”

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson, and the great-grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful — in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests.

Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent — and often even vocal — sanction of things as they are. But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. 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. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion to inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment.”

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