This week, the annual March for Life will take place again in Washington, DC. On January 19th we commemorate a great Human Rights Leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
He was assassinated in 1968 for defending the fundamental truth of the dignity of every human person. For anyone who honestly examines the facts, the connection between these two events should be crystal clear.
Throughout this week people will gather in well-deserved commemorations of this great American hero. Many will recall the historic “I Have Dream Speech” of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. which was delivered at the March on Washington in 1963.
I spend some time reflecting on that moving speech every year. As a little boy, growing up in the inner city of Boston, in Dorchester, Massachusetts, I memorized the speech. I remember trying to imitate his cadence and manner of delivery as I practiced it, over and over again.
It was – and still is – an amazing example of inspired oratory. I use that word oratory intentionally. The definition of oratory connects our duty to honor God through public worship with speech which is eloquent and inspired.
In addition, the root of the English word inspire means to be filled with the spirit. Dr. King’s writings and speeches were often filled with the Spirit.
Dr. King has always been one of my heroes. As a young man, I discovered many more of his speeches, sermons and writings. They inspired me and motivated me.
I strongly recommend that my readers purchase a beautiful little book which compiles some his sermons and writings entitled “Strength to Love“. I have an old version with tattered pages, some of which are falling out. I regularly return to the book for inspiration.
You will do so as well, once you read the contents.
On April 16, 1963, this great American leader, this Christian man who understood the fundamental truth that all men and women are endowed by God the Creator with inalienable rights, wrote what has become one of my favorite among his beautiful writings, speeches and sermons.
That writing was entitled, after the fact, a “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, it can be read here.
This jailhouse letter is profound and prophetic. It should be viewed as a manifesto for every Christian – and especially Christian Clergy – who want to understand and live the obligation we all have to stand for authentic Social Justice.
I know that the term “Social Justice” has been co-opted by many self-interested people. It has even been twisted by some folks with political and social agendas which were not Dr. King’s agenda.
However, it is a term which should not be given up by contemporary Christians. Among all people, we know that we have an obligation to our neighbors, and are called by the Lord Himself to show a special love for the poor.
The 25th chapter of the Gospel of St Matthew is a stirring account of the last judgement which should be read by anyone who doubts the seriousness of our obligations in solidarity.
We must ensure that not only the term Social Justice – but its true meaning – are advanced in this hour.
As a Clergyman, a Deacon of the Catholic Church, I prayerfully read this letter written from a Jail cell every year – during this holiday when we remember this great American hero.
I wonder if many such letters from jail cells may be ahead for us if this Nation we love does not turn back to God. We have lost our moral compass. Oh, we still use the words of “Social Justice” but much of what is championed under the rhetoric is unjust.
All of the writings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are connected to, and flow from, his genuine faith because Dr. King was first and foremost, a dedicated Christian.
It was his bedrock faith in Jesus Christ – and his deep understanding of the unity of the message of salvation the saving life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ offers to all men and women – which inspired him and animated his life’s work.
Martin Luther King Jr. did not separate faith and life.He understood they cannot be separated. Even the salutation at the beginning of the letter speaks volumes. He addressed it to “My Fellow Clergymen”.
He engaged in this work of true justice because he was, first of all, called by God. Reverend Dr. King was unjustly imprisoned at the time of the writing of this letter for defending the fundamental human rights of every single human person.
I say HUMAN rights because these rights have their source in our identity as human persons who are created in the Image of God. The civil Government did not grant them – and the civil Government cannot take them away.
Without any fear of being considered “too religious”, Dr King defended his position with a vibrant Christian witness. Because we are all human persons, we all have human rights. The source of those rights is God the Creator, in whose Image we have been created.
Civil Rights, as important as they may be, are the domain of the State. And, as is obvious from Dr. King’s imprisonment, they are not always justly enforced or protected.
It is Human Rights which were the subject of his message and the inspiration for his heroism. These fundamental Human Rights are ours because we have received them from God. The first among them is the Right to Life itself.
Without that Right to Life there can be no other human rights. Human Rights are goods of the human person – and every procured abortion takes the life of an innocent human person.
Dr. King wrote his jailhouse letter when he was the President of a CHRISTIAN group:
I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights.
It was his Christian faith that inspired this letter from the Birmingham jail. It was because of his faith in Jesus Christ that he had the courage to live his heroic life – and suffer his unjust death.
It was his Christian faith which helped him to persevere in the cause of justice. Dr. King truly knew the meaning of the phrase, Amazing Grace.
The Dream he proclaimed in the speech we often remember when we think of him does indeed live on, precisely because it was born from the pierced heart of the Savior whom Dr. King followed.
He knew that as Jesus offered Himself on that Cross on Golgotha, he brought the only true end to all division by dealing with its root cause, recreating us in Himself and breaking down the dividing walls of hostility which separate us, bringing us into His Body. (See, e.g., Eph 2:14)
Dr. King 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 village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of 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 which I have read in my lifetime:
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 so called “positive” laws:
How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made 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 who in his day accused him of being extreme because he called some positive laws unjust – and therefore not law at all. For those who argued that opponents of unjust civil laws must not be too public in that opposition he had these poignant, prophetic and powerful words:
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.
Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake.
It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.
We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s anti-religious laws.
On this day when we remember the dream and honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. we must continue his work and not succumb to the counterfeit agendas which seek to leech upon his noble memory.
There is no doubt that any positive or civil law which protects the killing of our youngest neighbor, the child in the womb, is an unjust law. It must be opposed and resisted. In his words, “Now is the time to make justice a reality to all of God’s children”.
The evil at the root of procured abortion on demand is the same as the evil which is at the root of slavery and its sad successor, racism – of any sort and in any manifestation. It denies the God given dignity of every human life.
Every law which denies equal opportunity to any person based upon their race, gender, age, religion or ethnicity, is a fundamental violation of the Natural Moral Law which is a participation in the Divine Law.
It is always and everywhere wrong to allow any person, or any group of people, to determine who can live or who can die, who can be the recipient of human rights, and who cannot. Dr. King knew this.
Some human “choices” – such as treating human persons as property to be used, rather than human persons to be received as gifts and honored – are always and everywhere wrong. To deny human rights to anyone, and, as in legalized abortion, even protect those who then choose to kill them with the police power of the State, violates the Natural Law and is always immoral.
Procured Abortion should be illegal under the positive or civil law. It always kills an innoecent human perosn and denies that person the fundamental human right, LIFE.
Among the living heirs to Dr. King’s true legacy is his niece, Dr. Alveda King. According to her own witness “She is the daughter of the late slain civil rights activist Rev. A. D. King and his wife Naomi Barber King. Alveda is the grateful mother of eight children and she is a doting grandmother.”
She is a wonderful mother, grandmother and Christian.
She has kept the uncompromising Christian vision of the late Dr. Martin Luther King alive. She knows what that letter from the Birmingham Jail clearly reveals; it was Dr. King’s Christian faith which actually inspired him to his heroic life and sacrificial death. It must now become the heart of our authentic Christian activism in this hour.
Those who seek to take Dr. King’s profoundly Christian vision, message and life witness and substitute homosexual practice and other sexual acts outside of the dignity and beauty of the marital embrace, as some kind of new-found ‘human right” are thieves of the truth and dishonor his memory.
Some who read that statement will accuse me of being discriminatory. Nonsense!
No-one, including self-identifying homosexuals and lesbians, should ever be treated with disrespect or denied basic fundamental human rights.
However, that is because they are human persons with human dignity – and not because of the sexual activity which they engage in. Nor should partnerships formed around such active sexual practices be given a moral and legal equivalency to real marriage. That does not serve the real common good.
The objective truth that marriage is between one man and one woman, intended for life, open to life and formative of family, is written in the Natural Moral Law and acknowledged across cultural, religious and social lines. Efforts to redefine the word as a part of a cultural revolution will never serve the real common good. Persecuting those who oppose such efforts is unjust.
Homosexual practice was never intended by Dr. King to be considered as the moral equivalent of race, gender, religious faith or ethnic origin. He was a practicing, believing Christian.
Nor can homosexual or lesbian partnerships ever constitute the true ground for authentic marriage or provide a firm foundation for the family, which is the first vital cell of society. They are incapable of achieving the ends of marriage.
The real common good will never be served by denying another right, the right of children to have a mother and a father.
On this day when we remember the dream and honor the heroic life and death of a great Christian man, let us follow his example by sacrificially engaging all of the great human rights issues of our age.
Paramount among them is the freeing of a new slave class, children in the first home of the whole human race, who have no voice but our own. They are our first neighbors, yet they are treated as property to be disposed of when they are not wanted. They need to be included in the promise of being free at last! True solidarity demands it.
Today and every day we should honor the memory and sacrificial life and death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – and help to fulfill his unfulfilled dream – by defending the first and fundamental human right, the Right to Life.
Remember his words, “Now is the time to make justice a reality to all of God’s children”. That includes our youngest neighbors in the womb. Defending them is the human rights, solidarity and equality cause of our age.
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.