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A Letter From Birmingham Jail





There are certain moments in life when you encounter something of such profound substance that it proceeds to lift from the page and grasp at the strings of your heart. Words so earnestly written, they resonate deep, surpassing all platitudes or conventional wisdom or vague encouragements. In my experience, these instances are primarily rooted in Scripture where the divine words of God find such depth within, connecting me to the reality that the Lord is exactly who He says He is: the Eternal King of all. There are, however, a few notable exceptions where I have read the accounts or words of men who, in the face of great opposition, stood for what was right.


Over the course of this last week, I read something of such similar gravity entitled: [A] Letter from Birmingham Jail, written by Martin Luther King Jr. I encourage everyone to familiarize themselves with this piece especially as we celebrate the incredible strides made by those duly honored during Black History Month. This letter was not simply written to a society in need of change, nor only to a nation slow to receive it, but rather was constructed with the religious leaders of the South, specifically Birmingham Alabama, in mind. The very fact this letter was needed to address the actions of figures who should have been standing for the truth in the first place is shameful. What moves me most sincerely are the wise and courageous words of this influential man penned from the darkness of his jail cell.

Speaking to the pastors of his day, King clearly identifies the sole reasoning behind his imprisonment - the grave and unfortunate reality that, “injustice is here…” and in the face of such transgressions: “I cannot sit idly by…” because “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Yet all the same, King’s words, despite the inexcusable conditions of the South where segregation was still prevalent and people of color were brutally treated, were not a call for violence, but rather for peace. And this peace did not mean sitting idly by and allowing injustice to continue. To sit back out of fear when evil is both propagated and tolerated is an evil in itself.


In truth, it was this sort of stagnated silence which mirrored, all too closely, the responses of the pastors of the South, with very few exceptions. Instead of coming to the aid of their brothers and sisters in the midst of this fight, they chose the easy path and remained quiet, criticizing the efforts for freedom. King issued a strong warning in response, one that we must be mindful of today as well:

“So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an arch defender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent—and often even vocal—sanction of things as they are.


But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.”


It is in the light of this letter that I personally thank God we find ourselves 60 years down the road, celebrating the incredible fights of men like Martin Luther King Jr. which have resulted in the greater equality for all citizens of this nation. My prayer today is that we would follow his example. That we would realize the perpetual need for courage in the midst of many victories having yet to be won, but also that we realize the need for men and women who are willing to speak the truth when it is difficult; to not accept the status quo and to not allow the popular opinion of the time to dictate what we excuse and accept.

The church must be the church. We cannot afford to be a “weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound.” We who have been placed here for such a time as this cannot become inauthentic and irrelevant. There is work to be done, there is truth to be upheld, and there is great courage to be found when we step out in faith.

I thank God for those who have gone before us, and I pray that we would walk in great courage as well as we pursue His purpose for our families, churches, and nation!

Pastor Sam Edwards

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