Today the United States of America celebrates the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr., the great prophet of liberation, non-violence, and civil and human rights. Yesterday (his actual birthday), I went to visit the new Martin Luther King, Jr., memorial in Washington, DC. It’s a must-see stop on your next visit to the nation’s capital.
In honor of this great leader, whose struggle for freedom in the African-American community is a model for the LGBT community, I offer this excerpt from his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (1963). For those who work for equality and justice for LGBT people in the Catholic church, his words are a beacon:
“There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period when the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.
“Wherever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being ‘disturbers of the peace’ and ‘outside agitators.’ But they went on with the conviction that they were ‘a colony of heaven,’ and had to obey God rather than man. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be ‘astronomically intimidated.’ They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest.
“Things are different now. The contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch-supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are.
“If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring…and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. I am meeting young poeople every day whose disappointment with the church has risen to outright disgust.
“Maybe again, I have been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and our world? Maybe I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ecclesia and the hope of the world. But I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom.”
On the walls of the monument in DC are several quotations from King. I found the following ones particularly germane to LGBT equality:
“We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
“Make a career of humanity, commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.”“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, affects all indirectly.”
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry