Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Learning a theology lesson from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

On August 23, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Junior, delivered his epic “I have a dream” speech on the mall in Washington D.C. I would like to offer a quote from this speech that shows the brilliant, if not so subtle, criticism of Christianity at the time. It was a reference that he made in the speech. Here’s the quote:
“There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. *We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by a sign stating: "For Whites Only."* We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until "justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."¹” 
The scripture passage that he used in the above quote is from Amos chapter five. The exact clause is “until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” I would like to include the scripture passage where this quote is taken from, so that I may give it the context, that no doubt Dr. King, wanted it to have.

They hate him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor him who speaks the truth. Therefore because you trample on the poor and you exact taxes of grain from him, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not dwell in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. For I know how many are your transgressions and how great are your sins-- you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and turn aside the needy in the gate. Therefore he who is prudent will keep silent in such a time, for it is an evil time. Seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so the LORD, the God of hosts, will be with you, as you have said. Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of hosts, the Lord: "In all the squares there shall be wailing, and in all the streets they shall say, 'Alas! Alas!' They shall call the farmers to mourning and to wailing those who are skilled in lamentation, and in all vineyards there shall be wailing, for I will pass through your midst," says the LORD. Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD! Why would you have the day of the LORD? It is darkness, and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. Is not the day of the LORD darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it? "I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
(Amo 5:10-24ESV)

As you read the above passage, it should become clear that Dr. King was showing any and all who would listen and hear, that the white religious establishment in the south, was truly hypocritical, and that if they would in fact read the warnings that God had given Israel through the prophet Amos, they would have been given pause considering their treatment of fellow African American Christians. The gate is symbolic for government and commerce. Amos was telling Israel that their national sin was injustice.

As I look at the current situation here in the richest country in the world, we have not made much progress since the days of Dr. King some forty-four years ago. There is little concern for the poor and disenfranchised. Taxes are still exacted at the expense of the poorest Americans. Most of our charity efforts, allows too much of the finances meant to help with the distribution to the poor, to be consumed by unnecessary administrative costs. All to often in our courts, justice is not available for the poor but can be bought by the wealthy. If God is the same, yesterday, today and forever, and I believe He is, then we as a country, as Christians, should reflect on the fact that God brought judgment to Israel because of the warnings of the prophet Amos.

When will we let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a might stream?

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