This MLK day, let's heed King's call for justice


This MLK day, let's heed King's call for justice

If there was ever someone who could be called an equal-opportunity lover of Scripture, it was the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

We remember King this weekend on what would have been his 81st birthday, had he had not been gunned down at age 39.

When we think of King, too often we focus on his academic title -- Doctor (Ph.D. in Theology) -- and downplay or even forget his spiritual title -- Reverend. We belittle the spirit in favor of the mind. In doing so, we miss -- and miss out on -- a great deal of what motivated and sustained King.

This holiday weekend, Walla Walla will enjoy a wonderful assortment of programs, events, marches, panels, service projects, concerts, community organizing workshops and other events to recall and learn from King. All are appropriate.

Congregations might consider joining this line-up. King's words lend themselves perfectly to sermons at any house of worship, for at his core, Reverend King was a man who loved God, who believed that God had created all of us to work to perfect the world we find ourselves in -- a world that isn't always as holy as it could be.

King drew from many sources in his preaching.

From the Old Testament, he particularly loved Amos: "Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."

He echoed Micah's calls to "do justice, to love loving-kindness, and to walk discreetly with your God."

He reminded a group of Southern clergy, the audience of his "Letter from Birmingham Jail," about the Book of Daniel, in which Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego's refusal to obey Nebuchadnezzar's laws was because of their steadfast moral commitment to a higher, more just law.

King came to appreciate that, "The Hebrew prophets belonged to all people because their concepts of justice and equality have become ideals for all races and civilizations."

From the New Testament, King frequently liked to draw on the story of the Good Samaritan, who when confronted by a wanderer on the dangerous Jericho-to-Jerusalem road, asked this challenging question, "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?" Scripture, King reminded his followers, calls us to be responsible not just for our brethren, but also for the strangers in our midst, even when it may be risky to do so.

He knew Jesus as a radical: "Was not Jesus an extremist in love -- 'Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.'"

Building on this understanding, King taught, "Love is the most durable power in the world. This creative force, so beautifully exemplified in the life of our Christ, is the most potent instrument available in mankind's quest for peace and security."

Reverend King -- demonstrating a kind of blissful ecumenism -- was convinced that all faiths are important because they are all part of God's world and can all make this world more just.

He reminded us, "A religion true to its nature must also be concerned about man's social conditions. Religion deals with both earth and heaven, both time and eternity. Any religion that professes to be concerned with the souls of men and is not concerned with the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them is a dry-as-dust religion."

For King, the church, or the synagogue or the mosque -- any house of worship, really -- is the foundation for a moral challenge to injustice in the world. It doesn't matter the type of faith or denomination. Rather, what matters is the quality and character of the congregation:

"Worship at its best is a social experience with people of all levels of life coming together to recognize their oneness and unity under God."

May this Martin Luther King Day be for you one of community, justice, faith and inspiration.

Noah Leavitt is the President of Congregation Beth Israel in Walla Walla. E-mail him at Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should contact Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312, or by e-mail at


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