Martin Luther King, Jr., and the March for Life
Dr.Martin Luther King, Jr., has always been a hero to me. Growing up in the inner city of Boston, I memorized his “I Have a Dream” speech. I remember trying to imitate his cadence and delivery as I practiced it. In 1963 he wrote Letter from Birmingham Jail. He addressed it to “My Fellow Clergymen” and as a clergyman, I prayerfully read it every year during the holiday when we remember this great American hero.
Dr. King was, first and foremost, a Christian. His understanding of the unity of the message of salvation animated his life’s work. He did not separate faith and life. The Dream he proclaimed in that message lives on precisely because it was born from the pierced heart of the Savior Martin Luther King followed. He knew that as Jesus offered Himself on that Cross on Golgotha, he brought down the dividing walls of hostility which separate us. (See, for example, Eph 2:14.)
I am Here Because Injustice is Here
In the Letter, he explained to some within the Christian community of his day who had objected to his methods: “I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.”
Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his home in Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ across the Greco-Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.
He articulated one of the best expressions of Christian solidarity I have ever read: “I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Standing on the shoulders of the Old Testament Prophets and under the Shadow of the Cross where the final Prophetic voice, the Word made Flesh, hung in selfless love for all men and women, Dr. King addressed another thorny subject, the fact of unjust civil or positive laws, asking “How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust?” He answered:
A just law is a manmade code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.
Dr. King confronted those in his day who accused him of being an extremist because he called some positive laws unjust and therefore not law at all, and led a movement that rejected them. Many of his fellow clergymen argued that opponents of unjust civil laws must not be too public in that opposition. He had these words of clarity and conviction to say to them: “One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.”
First Among These
The first among them is the right to life itself. On the week when we remember the dream and honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we continue his work by marching for an entire class of persons who have never been allowed to join us. On January 22nd, hundreds of thousands of people will gather in Washington, D.C., to call for an end to legalized abortion on demand.
Any positive or civil law that protects the killing of our youngest neighbor, the child in the womb, is an unjust law. It must be opposed and resisted. Dr. King would have seen that clearly and said that boldly, if he had not been murdered for his courageous words. In his words, “Now is the time to make justice a reality to all of God’s children.”
The evil at the root of legal abortion is the same evil which is at the root of slavery and racism, of any sort and in any manifestation. It denies the God-given equality of worth and dignity of every human life, black and white, born and unborn. It is always and everywhere wrong to allow any person to determine who can receive human rights and who cannot — who can sit at the front of the bus and at the lunch counter, who can live or who can die.
Dr. King knew this. Those who want to honor his memory should continue to oppose racism as he did, but also to oppose abortion on demand and support the protection of unborn life as he would have done. To adapt the end of his Letter: “Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice and abortion on demand will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.”