What Would MLK Do?


Today, I read an essay by Lesley Butterfield Harrop.  His powerful words touched and inspired me.

I am NO Martin Luther King.  But….maybe, just maybe, 10,000 resounding voices can echo the example of  this great man.

Lesley’s Essay

I attended my lovely little Unitarian Universalist Church congregation today. The theme was Martin Luther King Jr. and the freedoms that he stood for. I have to admit my public and private school education has failed when it comes teaching Dr. King’s remarkable insight into the social injustices and social psychology behind the very freedoms that he was so peacefully bit powerfully advocating for. The letter from Dr King penned from Birmingham Jail was read in the church service. I’d like to share some correlating thoughts that I’ve had regarding Dr King’s words and corresponding situations we now face in the social and political system of the Mormon religious institution. In particular, Sam Young’s work/petition to keep our children safe from harmful influences and practices that curiously and alarming seem to have a place within our faith system, as well as many of us who desperately who to advocate for changes within the church including racial and gender equality, LGBTQIA inclusion, and reformation of other harmful and abusive policies or messaging. I want to share a few excerpts from his letter first, followed by the correlation I can see.

“Letter from a Birmingham Jail [King, Jr.]”
16 April 1963
My Dear Fellow Clergymen:
While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms…

…But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid…

…I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection…

..I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality…

…I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. 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. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still all too few in quantity, but they are big in quality…

…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…

…In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep 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…” (Excerpts from Letter from Birmingham Jail).

The assertions that Dr King defines in his letter are strictly parallel to those we as brothers and sisters in faith face today. He outlines ‘The Why’ of his work. Certainly, he was asked and even demeaned for traveling to other places in order to advocate for freedom, just as we hear today from faithful TBM’s, in all areas, “Why do you need to advocate for these children if you trust your current Bishop, or if your children are grown, or if you are not even LDS, or if this never happened to you personally? And if you are not gay, why does this policy matter to you?” With Dr King’s words, we have beautiful reasoning as to why we must stand when there are injustices, no matter the effects on us personally. Regardless if these very injustices take place in our ward, our university, our community, our religion, or our place of residence, we must stand because somewhere in a ward, a university, a community they ARE taking place. We stand because we must. And we travel or spread our cause, because the need to reach these places of injustice will not be fulfilled until someone somewhere stands and says, “No More.”

Interestingly enough, it was NOT the extremists that Dr King found the most frustration with. It was those who were the Moderates. The ones who could understand the need for change, but ultimately chose to preserve the peace and order of system instead of standing and advocating for a new freedom-filled peace. Is this not what we are facing today? We all personally know those people who can understand our cause to stand for protecting children, fighting injustices, and calling out abuse. Sadly, the majority of this crowd will not ACT but remain COMPLICIT, justifying that it is not their fight, when deep down they just fear change. This group of people (the moderates as Dr King referred to them as) values peace over justice. Dr. King so eloquently points out the harm in a peace that allows evil and the true desire he has for a peace that thrives with freedom and justice. In our LDS wards and stakes we face this same question. We have peace and order, yes, but what type is it? Regretfully, it is the type of peace and order that is allowing injustices and evils to flourish, against our children and against our own brothers and sisters, no less.

Finally, Dr. King speaks of the church. The church that he LOVES. The church that he is a third generation preacher in. He speaks of this church disappointing him greatly because of its inability to stand with the oppressed. Why does this disappoint him? Because Jesus Christ himself championed the oppressed with peace and love. He did not turn away from the injustices or fall in line with the Roman rule
of order to keep the peace. He walked and served the least of these and HE is the EXEMPLAR to all of us who claim to follow him. Certainly, the parallel can be drawn to our church today. We literally and figuratively take upon ourselves the name of Christ each Sunday. We call ourselves The Latter-Day Saints of Jesus Chris himself. How can we even use that terminology when we justify, blame, minimize, rationalize, and doubt the countless horrific experiences of our powerless victims who had no voice and no protector.

I didn’t mean to write a novel, but felt such important conclusions were necessary to draw after seeing some of the responses to those who simply advocate for a resolution to injustices happening in our midst today.