I’ve found that going to school in Alabama definitely has it perks, especially when it comes to visiting historical sights. I’m guilty of placing Atlanta at the center of the Civil Rights Movement but so much happened in Birmingham and really Alabama in general. This past Sunday (also Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday), I had the privilege of attending a church service at the 16th Street Baptist Church. For those unfamiliar with the history of the 16th Street Baptist Church, in 1963 the KKK bombed the building and killed 4 little girls attending Sunday school and injured around 22 others. Today, the church stands as a National Historical Landmark and continues to have weekly services.
Being in this church reminded me just how important the role of the Church as a meeting place and Christianity itself was during the Civil Rights Movement. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was not just a well educated activist, he also attended Crozer Theological Seminary to become a minister. We all know about his speeches and his marches but I think we often times forget that he did this with a Christian conscience. Does that mean that all of his beliefs came straight out of the Bible? Of course not. He studied numerous philosophers like Aristotle, Plato, and Locke and was influenced by the writings of Marx and the teachings of Ghandi. But he did all of this with his faith in mind. He said himself that “the Christian doctrine of love, operating through the Gandhian method of nonviolence, is one of the most potent weapons available to an oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.”
The most important thing to take away here is that social justice and Christianity go hand in hand. We see this not just from Martin Luther King Jr.’s life but also by looking at how Jesus lived his life. He didn’t just come to preach a message of salvation, he came to help those who weren’t being helped by their governments and religious leaders. Too often today, social justice is equated with a liberal way of thinking and looked down upon in conservative circles. These same circles that look down on social justice also claim to be Christian. But Christianity is more than just going to church and living your own personal life according to what you deem to be a moral standard. God explicitly tells us we have to care about other people. As if “Love one another as I have loved you” didn’t make it clear enough:
Micah 6:8 “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
This verse was mentioned at the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration service at 16th Street and it just so happens to be one of my favorite. It’s one of those verses that doesn’t need a bunch of dictionaries and interpretations to understand. God doesn’t just WANT us to act just justly, love mercy, and walk humbly, but he requires it! This doesn’t mean we all have to be out in the streets protesting and shutting down highways (because it’s not for everyone) but it does mean we have an obligation to speak up against hate speech and injustices around the world and care for those who have been overlooked or targeted by society and help in anyway we can, just like Jesus did back in his day.