In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day | January 18, 2021
by Michelle McKinney
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” –Ephesians 4:31-32
I’ve never been much of a history buff. When I was growing up, memorization of dates and facts about the Treaty of This and the War of That just didn’t do it for me.
Over the years, however, I’ve learned that the context and perspective of what I hear and read is critical to understanding what’s truly going on.
To that end, I’m fortunate enough to be in a small group of women here at PLC looking at the relationships between social justice, the Christian church, and each of us individually. It is a privilege to be able to learn and grow with this group of open and curious women.
Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. As you might imagine, he has figured prominently in our studies thus far. The son, grandson, and great-grandson of Christian ministers, King’s life was marked by persecution, acts of violence, and eventual assassination due to his prominent leadership in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. There is so much I have learned about King during my time in PLC’s small group. For example, did you know that he was born “Michael King, Jr.” after his father, and they both had a name change after learning about Martin Luther and the history of the Reformation? That was news to me.
I also didn’t know that Martin Luther King, Jr. was jailed twenty-nine times as a consequence of his actions. Understanding that someone is in jail with liberties stripped from them gives important context to their views as those are shared. When we read in Ephesians—“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”—knowing that Paul is under house arrest as he writes these words gives a different, richer meaning than if he were freely moving around Rome.
While in jail in 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his Letter from Birmingham Jail, a response to questions posed from Alabama clergy wondering why “extremists” like King had come into the area and caused disruptions locally. King wrote, “Though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter, I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you’… The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”
On this holiday honoring Rev. King, I will be thinking about the context of his life and about my personal role to honor his legacy through action and being an extremist in pursuit of positive change.