Five Ways to Respond to MLK’s Letter from Birmingham Jail

Five Ways to Respond to MLK’s Letter from Birmingham Jail


It has been 50 years since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail. This is a short series on “Five Ways to Respond to the Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Fifty years is a long time. You might wonder what we should do now that 50 years have passed. From the start we should acknowledge that WE have not responded in general, and by that I mean the church. No reply was ever given to Dr. King’s letter. But before you and I get sucked up into the corporate confession, perhaps It would be wise to think about how I as an individual have responded. I am prone to read Dr. King’s letter thrice removed–to see it, and the Civil Rights movement, through the eyes of my forebears, and then through their eyes to the “bad people” who let so much evil happen to people of color–thus thrice removed. But it is a much more convictional experience to read the Letter from Birmingham Jail as though it was addressed to David Drury.

King wrote:

I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.
Dr. Martin Luther King

While it is hard for me to enumerate a list of things I have personally done to oppress anyone. I must admit that I have too casually gained awareness that I am a member of what has been the “oppresser race.” I cannot fully understand the “deep groans” and it takes discipline and selflessness to have the vision to root out injustice.

I’m thankful for the deep love of those who have bridged the ethnic gap to befriend me, enlisting me in the cause of justice rooted in the joy of friendship. This has helped me to focus on ways I can still make a difference. So on this 50th year occasion I want to respond to Dr. King’s letter personally.

I am trying to respond to Dr. King in these five ways and I hope you do too: to celebrate the progress that has already been achieved, to confess the sins of the past and the present for myself and corporately, to continue the struggle against prejudice and racism, to find the new fights which MLK and the Civil Rights Movement should inform us in today, and to be ever vigilant in the future so a “never again” promise is fulfilled.

So, that’s the road I’ll be marching in the next few posts… join with me if you will.