A tired and ragged man approached my small group sitting in the courtyard of our downtown church discussing our lesson. He asked if we could help him. We all looked at each other and back at him. None of us twenty-somethings knew what to do so, I’m ashamed to say, we awkwardly did nothing meaningful. As the man walked away he was probably wondering what the point of the church was anyway. That happened over twenty years ago and I’m still haunted by it. The Holy Spirit hounded and convicted me in my prayer time in the days following that encounter. I vowed if I God would give me a “do over” I would behave differently.
A few months later, my friend and I were loading our car in the deserted church parking lot after class one late afternoon. I looked across the campus and walking toward us was a man who looked eerily familiar. My companion said to hurry up and get in the car, but I told my friend I would be right back. I took off across the lot toward this man as if he was a long-lost friend and I silently thanked God for this second chance.
It was not the same man as before, just another in a similar situation. I smiled and shook the man’s hand. I asked how I could help him. He seemed surprised by my eye contact and friendliness. He only wanted some directions to the nearby assistance center run by the city.
I gave him directions and asked if there was anything else I could do to help. Did he need food? Did he have a place to sleep? He assured me he was fine and just needed directions. He thanked me for helping him, smiled, turned and walked down the street toward the assistance center a few blocks away.
As I returned to the car, my worried friend asked why I had done something so seemingly reckless. I told her I wasn’t about to run away from the second chance for which I had prayed.
The man really didn’t want anything but directions so it wasn’t like I did much. But the attitude of my heart had been so different this time and I was keenly aware of having done something instead of nothing. I treated the man with kindness, dignity, and respect and provided the directions he asked for. Not much in the scheme of things, but it was far more than I had done in the previous instance of need.
I watch for opportunities now in a different way than I did back then.
When we see need, injustice, or oppression God expects us to move toward meeting the need, working for justice, and lifting up the oppressed. And he expects his children to do so in a manner that reflects his character.
There are many Christians who provide good role models for doing this. We find the accounts of the earliest in the book of Acts. The many letters in the New Testament also record example after example. And in modern times, we have many role models as well.
MLK Wasn’t Just Eloquent, He Walked the Walk
During the 1960s, “while others were advocating for freedom by ‘any means necessary,’ including violence, Martin Luther King, Jr. used the power of words and acts of nonviolent resistance, such as protests, grassroots organizing, and civil disobedience to achieve seemingly-impossible goals.”(1)
We can learn much about living out our faith in Christ by the example set by this courageous preacher and civil rights leader.
I’ve been reading through some of his speeches, sermons, and letters and have compiled a few favorite quotes to share with you. I hope the principles Dr. King voiced and modeled as he worked tirelessly for social justice inspire you to live out your faith and calling with passion and integrity.
When eight Alabama clergymen directed a statement to Dr. King, he answered their questions and confronted their spiritual hypocrisy from his jail cell in Birmingham.
In this famous letter, Dr. King explains why it would be wrong to ignore the injustices occurring in their city just because he lived elsewhere. If you haven’t ever read the Letter from Birmingham City Jail, I highly recommend you take a few moments today and do so.
While he spoke specifically of racial injustice, the principle applies to all types of injustice. If we ignore when someone else’s dignity and worth are trampled, we will inevitably find ourselves impacted.
Repent of Indifference and Silence
It isn’t just violence we must repent of and guard against. It is also apathy and silence in the face of injustice.
During World War II, Winston Churchill cited a quote from Edmund Burke in order to jolt those in his nation who were complacent when it came to the atrocities committed by the Nazis elsewhere in Europe.
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.“
Dr. King articulated that same thought when he addressed the graduating class of 1964 at Oberlin College. This commencement speech, Remaining Awake During the Great Revolution, is also worth reading!
Truth and Justice Go Hand in Hand
One of the podcasts I listen to regularly is In The Loop with Andy Andrews. One of those episodes introduced me to the joltingly relevant book, How Do You Kill 11 Million People: Why the Truth Matters More Than You Think.
This book examines how the terrible injustice and oppression in Nazi Germany happened at that time in that country. And with chilling and timely insights into how such horrors could unfold again anywhere good people turn a blind eye to evil and deception.
I urge you to read this book. Don’t worry, it’s not a politically slanted tirade. Regardless of whether you are a Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal, you’ll be captivated by the careful reflection on why we must demand truth and justice.
Read it to your kids (I did) and discuss with them our responsibility to take action and speak up when we see injustice and to use our votes to support people who tell the truth not just what makes us feel good.
In the book, Andy recounts the eyewitness testimony of a congregation member at a church near the railroad tracks on which the Jewish mothers, fathers, children, and grandparents were packed and transported like cattle to the death camps.
We knew the time the train was coming and when we heard the whistle blow we began singing hymns. By the time the train came past our church, we were singing at the top of our voices. If we heard the screams, we sang more loudly and soon we heard them no more.“
This very kind of indifference was addressed by King Solomon in Proverbs. He challenged the people of his day (and through the Scriptures, us) to speak up to rescue people in situations precisely like those on the trains in Nazi Germany, in the firebombed churches of Birmingham during the Civil Rights Movement, and anywhere people trample over the vulnerable.
If you do nothing in a difficult time, your strength is limited. Rescue those being taken off to death, and save those stumbling toward slaughter. If you say, ‘But we didn’t know about this,’ won’t He who weights hearts consider it? Won’t He who protects your life know? Won’t He repay a person according to his work?”—Proverbs 24:10-12
Let’s open our eyes and ears. Let’s repent of our inaction in the face of injustice. Let’s repent and repudiate violence as a means of protest.
10 “King Rules” That Guided MLK
Alveda King, Dr. King’s niece, shares the principles that guided her uncle and the entire King family in her book, King Rules: Ten Truths for You, Your Family, and Our Nation to Prosper. I found it to be quite compelling and insightful. She tells the story of seven generations of her family through the lens of ten biblical principles that have guided and directed each generation. It was these ten truths that gave them courage to work for change in an unjust society, strength to overcome immense tragedies, and joy through the good and bad.
It is noted in the book that while the title “King Rules” conveys the fact that the King family was guided by these principles, these are really the rules of the King, Jesus Christ. These values endure and empower because they are eternal.
I’ve made you a cheat sheet of these ten principles. If you’d like a copy, just click the image or button below and I’ll email you a copy right away.
Your turn: What helps or hinders you from taking action or speaking up in the face of need or injustice? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”