Monday, January 16, 2006

Martin, Amos, and Us

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. - Martin Luther King, Jr., “I Have A Dream”

“I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” - God, Amos 5:21-24

On the holiday commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr., I have chosen to quote his famous speech – along with another famous speech which he references, the speech of the prophet Amos.

God is saying through Amos that he has come to hate and despise the way he is worshiped. Very strong language – language we would not want to hear! It is important to remember that God himself instituted the very feasts and sacrifices he now abhorred. Why could he could no longer bear them? Because they were done as a mere ritual, and not from the heart.

But the sign that our religion issues from the heart, according to this passage and others, is not simply that we feel emotional about our worship. I’m sure those of Amos’ day could feel pretty emotional about their worship – with all the food, smoke, blood, and songs, it would seem hard not to. Religion from the heart is marked, instead, by whether “justice” and “righteousness” flow from our lives like “an ever-flowing stream.” Based on Amos, this involves our treatment of others in many ethical areas, including economics, sexuality, and treatment of the underprivileged.

This thought is expressed succinctly by the Apostle John:

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:20-21)

Amos is an important reminder that love is more than a feeling. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech remains an important reminder that there are plenty of people who need our love, if we are willing to open our eyes to their needs.


Anonymous said...

As with most men of political prominence, a debate can be had over the accomplishments of MLK and his effect on the country (and whether he alone, with the exception of Christ Jesus, merits a federal holiday solely in his honor). What I find more interesting is how the MLK holiday and legacy is held up as a symbol for individual love of our fellow man (an obvious good) but is also inextricably tied to the “social and economic equality” agenda (at the expense of private property and freedom of association). Orthodox Christians who toe the PC line on the MLK veneration will find the same political hammer used on those determined to be out of line with the PC ideals mashing their toes on any number of issues from homosexuality, feminism, or purported anti Semitism or anti Islamism.

Also, an important question in the context of this discussion is if the State enforces love and charity through the sword (the equalitarian/multicultural agenda) is this really love and charity? You referenced 1 John in regard to the Christian love we are to show to our neighbor, and this rebuke is sorely needed in this nation of individualists (who often won’t even look after their parents, let alone their neighbor). However this is the standard set for the individual and church and cannot be imposed by fiat, as it is a matter of the heart. If the problem we are addressing here is a personal lack of Christian love and charity, MLK and his followers present a secular (and ultimately Anti-Christian) solution to a problem of the heart, which only the Holy Spirit can truly remedy. Good works without repentance still leads to death – I would challenge anyone to find the preaching of the Gospel in the civil rights rhetoric. If we are indeed trying to seek justice through the laws of the State, we should perhaps look back a few days in the blog to Proverbs 11:1 "A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight."

No king but King Jesus.

Ken Shomo said...


I think your point is important, namely, that the MLK Jr. holiday may be perceived to be connected to a particular political agenda which MLK Jr may be perceived to have endorsed.

I planned on posting something similar to what you said for tomorrow's entry. I'll still do this, and happy feelings of agreement will follow. But till then...

Here's where I question your comments:

1) Does an appreciation for MLK Jr really necessitate an endorsement of the particular social agenda you claim? I would say no. MLK's primary concerns, brought out in his main speeches and writings, were for equal treatment. Maybe later generations turned toward more progressive agendas, eg quotas, but this does not necessarily flow from the concern that blacks and whites be treated with equal respect at the lunch counter.

2) There are some God-given laws which do enforce "love" by fiat, such as when the Israelites are told not to glean to the edges of the field so that the poor may have the excess, and others. So, is the question really about whether social justice should be enforced or how and what kind should be enforced?

Anonymous said...

1) With respect to MLK there are a few ways he can be taken, (i) the legend as I described above, (ii) the real person, and (iii) a selection of highlights (such as his speeches). With respect to (i) my position is as above (yes). With respect to (ii), my position is yes as I believe that his views and that of the “social agenda” are essentially in harmony. MLK spoke in generalizations in his speeches, but if you dig through his various quotes specifics can be found. There is plenty of information pro and con out there to read if one is so inclined – no need to drag it out here. With respect to (iii), I guess it depends on what you are reading! Regardless, I do not see how “equal treatment” can mean anything other than quotas and the like (maybe the “good” phase went speeding by before I was born, but many from MLK’s supporting crew are around today and I have a difficult time agreeing with them – but I digress).

2) This is an interesting point. From my recollection, gleaning was when the poor came after the ordinary reapers and gathered the grain missed by the reapers. I’d need to think about how this would apply today. As a novice at discerning moral (applicable today) versus civic (not) Mosaic law, I’m not sure where this would fall. Assuming it is a moral law, this would seem to best be represented today by a “work for food” program as the gleaning was presumably hard work. Regardless, I think that we can agree that the extensive birth to death social programs we have in this country are not representative of whatever principle is presented by gleaning. Would be interested to hear your thoughts on the topic.
In thinking about this, it would be refreshing to hear a socialist position actually argued from OT law, but I would guess that the capital punishment and slavery probably puts them off.


Ken Shomo said...

I admit to view #3 of Martin Luther King, Jr. I know the elementary school story line, I've seen his memorable speeches, and read a little of his most popular writing. I'm no expert on him, I admit that.

As to the question of how "equal treatment can mean anything other than social quotas," that's simple: Don't have separate drinking fountains. Don't harrass African Americans for sitting at a lunch counter or trying to enter college. Etc.

Racial quotas are an attempt to legislate morality. No matter what we think of them (I disagree w/them in our present context for example), we should humbly recognize what a shame it is that there was missing morality in the first place.

The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s was a response to the harsh treatment of blacks in the era of segregation. The sins committed against them, in my opinion, are inexcusable. Some of the hostile attitudes against blacks are summarized in the quote from MLK in this post; other injustices are famously known, including violent murder.

No matter what we think of the liberal policies that followed (and not all minorities embrace these), we should be humble in thinking about the injustices of that era. Just as we should be humble concerning the dehumanizing injustices under American slavery. This doesn't mean every plantation owner - or "free associating" restaurant owner - was a nasty dude, but enough were to leave a pretty tragic legacy.

Frederick Douglass had to defend the fact that he was a Christian, given that Christian slave owners were known for such violence and immorality. Malcolm Little went another direction - he simply rejected Christianity altogether, seeing it as so hostile to African Americans.

What a shame!

Praise God that the gospel is so powerful that those who possess it are able to forgive.

Anonymous said...

Well that certainly got your dander up! I’ll try to avoid opening up a whole new can of worms here, but I hold that it is possible to be glad that segregation and slavery (since you brought it up) are gone today, without approving the philosophy of the movement or demonizing those of the prior generations (I recall that Jonathan Edwards was a slaveholder). The history we read is rarely uncolored by its writers and their philosophical bent. Also, injustice is present in every generation (as you highlight), but I tend to believe that we live in a decidedly less Christ-like society today than in prior generations.

I know we can agree that in all things let us serve the King. May our generation be found faithful to the greatest commandment.
"Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." Matt 22:36-40

(slave to Christ in training)

Joseph Adrian said...

I attempted to post a comment and I hit preview and could'nt get it back so I will attempt to restate what I said.
There has been both positve and negative fallout from the civil rights movement. One positive for sure is that there is more equality and oppurtunity than there once was for Black Americans(the scandalous (and degrading)treatment of blacks in days gone by is certainly a dark period morally in this nations history). Though it cannot be denied that there is still discrimination against blacks(I have witnessed this first hand,there is also discrimination by blacks against whites as well). Some Black Americans make the outrageous assertion that things are no better for Blacks than they were 30 or 40 years ago(I have had numerous discusssions with African Americans that really believe this). To give one general example of how ludicrous this assertion is,there are numerous Black Americans in positions of political power(this was not possible with the racial climate in this country 30 or 40 years ago),that is one example of many that could be given.

Joseph Adrian said...

I'm sorry. I added another comment for Wade regarding his comments on Christian giving to charities and I put it on the wrong day. I think I put it on the most recent post from Ken. I would like to add a little something more to that thought. When someone who is not a Christian shows me kindness and consideration etc., I still appreciate it very much,and it usually has the effect of deepening my affection for that person who has been kind and considerate with me. On the flip side I have had those who profess to love God and name the name of Christ, treat me with a harsh,judgemental,uncaring attitude(and I'm not speaking about an isolated incident but a pattern of behaviour). These encounters no doubt are exceedingly painful because one does not expect this from a brother or sister in Christ.I understand that God is still working in our lives and that there are degrees of maturity,but it is painful nonetheless when this is the case.