A decade ago, a friend gave me a one-year subscription to Mars Hill Review, a journal for thoughtful reflection on issues of faith. Flipping through one of those issues recently − as part of a project to cull my collection − I came across an essay by William Edgar entitled ‘Why Love Can’t Wait: The Lonely Social Ethic of Martin Luther King, Jr." Mars Hill Review 16: 33-39 (2000).
What was “lonely” about Dr. King’s social ethic? In large part, Edgar argues, it was because so many white Christians lacked the commitment to justice work to join King on his journey. MLK was deeply disappointed at this, particularly by the unwillingness of white clergy to confront racism and lead their congregations toward positive change. His most widely read text, “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” is directed primarily at those clergy.
Dr. King wrote his open letter on April 16, 1963. Less than five years later, he was assassinated. Rather inexplicably, U2’s moving song “Pride in the Name of Love” puts the time the shots rang out as early morning on April 4. As a colleague pointed out to me today, it was actually late afternoon.
Today, we honor King’s legacy and gather strength to complete the journey toward a truly inclusive society for all. There's still a long way to go, but I know many white clergy who refuse to let social inequities go unchallenged. In fact, I'm married to one.