taking the words of Jesus seriously

I remember the 1950s and 60s well. For me the Civil Rights era took place when I was in college and slightly after I graduated. In my small apartment I would frequently turn the radio on to hear stories of protests calling for equality of blacks and whites in society mixed with broadcasts from authorities talking about crowd control and the number of folks killed in the recent protest. The call I would hear on the radio however, was not well accepted. In fact, typically after hearing the radio story about protests for equality the story that followed was the churches rebuttal.

And the churches rebuttal was not the same then as it is today.

Today, we admire Martin Luther King Jr. and those who, with him, worked tirelessly for the achievement of equality for all peoples. We admire their endless non-violent protests and countless displays of non-vocal (yet very loud) displays of objection. For our children and grandchildren today there may be few individuals who are as quality of a role model as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

But the church did not always view Dr. King in such high regard. In fact, when I was young his movement was frowned upon and even discouraged by the church.

I remember vividly listening to sermons and radio shows dedicated to terming the movement of Dr. King and those with him as a Marxist movement, one in which the church should stay arms distance away from. Such persuasion from the church and its leaders led to many of Dr. King’s friends turning away from his movement. In response to this Dr. King famously said, “In the end it will not be so much the words of my enemies that have hurt me the most, but rather the silence of those who have called themselves my friends.”

However, Dr. King continued to stand and march in the pursuit of justice despite losing many of those closest to him and even support from the church. In Dr. King’s case his stand for justice led to him being jailed on numerous occasions by sheriffs, mayors, and governors. We may revere King now, but his practice of civil disobedience then earned him condemnation from the authorities and the pulpit alike.

As we honor Dr. King today and continue to pursue the ideology he set forth in many of his speeches but most famously in “I Have a Dream, ” may we never tire to work towards a world where people are not judged by how they look or by how we may “perceive” them but instead on the content of their character. May we never tire in working for justice no matter where it may land us within society. And may we never forget our past and how evil can spread disguised as “good” through all institutions, including the church.

Thank you Dr. King and all those with you who never wavered in your fight for equality. Thank you for showing with powerful words and dignity what justice and integrity truly looks like.

Thank you.

About The Author


Tony Campolo is Professor of Sociology at Eastern University, and was formerly on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania. For 40 years, he founded and led the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, an organization that created and supported programs serving needy communities in the Third World as well as in “at risk” neighborhoods across North America. More recently, Dr. Campolo has provided leadership for the Red Letter Christians movement. He blogs regularly at his own website. Tony and his wife Peggy live near Philadelphia, and have two children and four grandchildren.

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