Reading “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King, Jr. last week was inspiring, thought provoking, troubling, encouraging and inspirational. His words on extremism struck a chord. He was initially disappointed to be viewed an extremist, but warmed to the label as he considered others who wore the tag. That list included the prophet Amos, Paul, Martin Luther, and Jesus. “So the question is not whether we will be extremist, but what kind of extremist we will be.”
Determining where to stand on an issue today seems to occur after extending a wet finger high overhead to gauge the direction and velocity of the wind. Only political centrists seem able to survive and thrive. Where are today’s extremists? King said there was a time when “the church was not merely the monitor that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.” Has the church lost its voice?
King’s extremism had a moral underpinning based on the law of God. “A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.” Martin Luther King, Jr. cannot be fully appreciated and understood apart from knowing he was a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ. His faith propelled and sustained him. His speeches and his sermons flowed from his strong relationship with a loving and just God. A quote carved in stone on the new Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington will be changed after the inscription was criticized for not accurately reflecting the civil rights leader’s words. A misstep, perhaps, that resulted from a lack of appreciation for his faith, not just his civil rights leadership.
Too often we forget that justice is a major part of love. True love cannot exist outside discipline, accountability, and justice rooted in the law of God. Is the church today more concerned about God’s opinion or human fallout when the issues of gambling, abortion, alcoholism, and homosexuality are considered? Holy Spirit help those who claim the name of Christ to love enough to stand on God’s shoulders while extending the shepherd’s crook of Christ to direct the errant lamb and pull the wayward from the crevice their wanderings lead them to from time to time. No matter the size of the predator, may God’s shepherds cry out as did Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.”
The world is drifting toward the same place as those who lived in the Old Testament Judges era described as those who “did whatever seemed right in their own eyes”. King lamented moderates who prefer “a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” God is looking for the kind of extremists King described; people rooted in the word of God willing to sacrifice their lives for the love of God.