Thursday, September 20, 2007

Disappointment with religious leaders

Since the meeting last Monday in Nashville, the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. have been running through my head. Maybe thoughts of MLK were triggered by nothing more than the fact of sitting in that all-white, all-male room of Southern Baptist officials. Maybe they were triggered by some of the things that were said there by men who profess to care about clergy sex abuse.

These are excerpts of MLK's Letter from the Birmingham Jail. He was answering criticism from clergymen.

"There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

I have been gravely disappointed with 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 constantly advises 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.

We who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed... before it can be cured.

More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.

Though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love.... Was not Amos an extremist for justice.... Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel.... The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be.

I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership.

I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents...and 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.

In the midst of blatant injustices...I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities.

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 see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body....

I hope the church...will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not...I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle...even if our motives are at present misunderstood."

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