In 2016 I sat down to read Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. I haven’t been the same since.
I grew up hearing about Dr. King in school as most of my peers did: we read small excerpts of his I Have a Dream speech, and we briefly learned about his important role in the Civil Rights movement. As positively as he was portrayed, I was never really encouraged to treat him as a serious figure. Important – of course! Significant- yes. But in my heart, I thought of him as more of a sentimental idea than a real person grounded in actual events.
My studies and development in Christian theology and ministry philosophy further discouraged me from taking King seriously. As I’ve written about previously, White Supremacy had invaded my theology in some subtle (and not so subtle) ways. I dismissed the Black theological tradition as less-than, believing it largely advocated for some kind of “progressive” liberation theology that was unbiblical. I did not consider King or his tradition as anything worth my time.
All of that changed in 2016 when I finally decided to sit and read King’s famous letter for myself. I saw myself in King’s words, particularly in those who he described as the “white moderate”: