Martin Luther King and Christian unity



On Monday, Jan. 15, many people in the United States and throughout the world will pause to celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. No, it will not be celebrated by everyone. As a matter of fact, a great many people deeply resent the annual observance of his birthday as a federal and/or state holiday. For them, his message and his ministry, his very person should not be acclaimed but would best be not condemned but forgotten.

How could it be otherwise? What King preached on March 31, 1968, at the National Cathedral of the Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., is still true today: “It is an unhappy truth that racism is a way of life for the vast majority of white Americans, spoken and unspoken, acknowledged and denied, subtle and sometimes not so subtle — the disease of racism permeates and poisons the whole body politic. And I can see nothing more urgent than for America to work passionately and unrelentingly — to get rid of the disease of racism.”

Those who celebrate King’s birthday must not react with anger or worse, indifference, to those who reject him, his ministry and his message, not if they are going to be true to his memory. In the sermon quote above King went on to say, “Something positive must be done, everyone must share the guilt as individuals and institutions. The government must certainly share the guilt, individuals must share the guilt, even the church must share the guilt. We must face the sad fact that at 11 o’clock on Sunday morning when we stand to sing ‘In Christ There is no East or West,’ we stand in the most segregated hour of America.”

King clearly believed and thought that human beings “must all learn to live together as sisters and brothers.” For the alternative, he said, is that “we will all perish together as fools.”

Of course as a Christian minister of the Gospel, King believed that there was a greater motivation for human beings to live together as sisters and brothers than self-preservation. The reason is that God created us to live as one in love, as he the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit live in love.

How important it is for Christians to live as one. It was the prayer that Christ offered not only for his apostles but for all of us the night before he died. In that prayer he said our unity in love was essential if we are to help others know of their need for unity.

Yes, we as church, if by that we mean Christians called to be the people of God, need to repent not only for our racism, but for its cause. Quite simply, it is to recognize that we are all children of Adam and Eve, and brothers and sisters called to live in love because that is what we are.

May all Christians join together during the week of prayer for Christian unity (Jan. 18-25) to pray with Christ that we all be one, so that together we may as Christians by our example seek an end to all divisions that give us an excuse to hate anyone.

Msgr. Thomas R. Duffy is pastor of St. Michael Church in Garden City and dean of the Pee Dee Deanery.