This past weekend we stopped to remember the legacy of MLK. Or to be more accurate I should say some stopped. I was surprised by the lack of coverage. Really it was considered another “ho-hum” historical moment in the news cycle. For instance compare the MLK dedication coverage to the rabid coverage of the death of Steve Jobs. Or the Conrad Murray trial for God’s sake.
I thought about reasons for this. On one hand maybe it’s because he has been covered so much already? Maybe there is nothing much left to cover, as around his birthday in January and Black History Month in February he receives his just due.
On the other hand I thought that MLK is becoming just another postscript in history. But make no mistake about it he was far more than a postscript. If you think about it, really it’s kind of crazy that he is accepted by both liberal and conservative circles alike nowadays.
Obviously I wasn’t around when he was operating but even a cursory look at his life reveals the man was a polarizing firebrand. One clear example can be found in his famous essay Letter from Birmingham City Jail. Dr. King wrote his essay while serving out a sentence for participating in civil rights demonstrations in Birmingham.
It was a response to the public appeal made by some Alabama clergymen to let unjust local politics decide the denied rights of African American people. King issued an indictment that their faith was too attached to American civic concerns to see the plight of his people through a biblical lens. His response was to make a biblical appeal to the righteousness of civil disobedience. An excerpt:
Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was seen sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abendengo to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar because a higher moral law was involved. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks, before submitting to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire.
King wrote that the contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch-supporter 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 vocal sanction of things as they (unjustly) are. This is not your average Sunday sermon, but rather prophetic and polarizing.
But King is viewed as very mainstream now. Have we lost our prophetic understanding of King? I wonder.