“I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.” These words are from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in which he challenged fellow clergy to get off the sidelines and get involved in the struggle for equality and justice. These clergymen had criticized King, urging patience and restraint rather than protests in Birmingham. Today, just as then, there is a temptation for Christians to ignore injustice. Some will say just "preach the Gospel," but we must engage where we see injustice if we are to be faithful to our call as Christians and Baptists.
We are not faithful to the Gospel, if it has no earthly implications for our lives and the lives of those around us. We see throughout Scripture, God's heart for the marginalized. From Moses, who went before the Egyptian government and said "let my people go." The minor prophets--Amos, Hosea and Micah--reminded Israel that at least part of the Lord's wrath towards them was due to their withholding justice from the poor. The Old Testament is filled with God's command to do justice, to care for the widow, orphan and the stranger, and to defend the rights of the oppressed. But, the call for justice is not limited to the Old Testament.
In the New Testament, we see similar themes in the life and ministry of Jesus. On learning of the child she will deliver, Mary said that the Lord “has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly, he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty (Luke 1:52-53)." Likewise at the start of his public ministry, Jesus declared that he came “to bring good news to the poor … proclaim release to the captive … and let the oppressed go free (Luke 4:18-19)."
Just as Jesus demonstrated the need to take action against injustice, our Baptist heritage includes numerous heroes who actively worked against injustice. From John Leland, who fought to include religious liberty for all in the Bill of Rights, to Martin Luther King Jr. and T.B Maston who fought against segregation, to Phil Strickland, who fought to improve the lives of Texas children. These Baptist heroes demonstrate that the work of doing justice is broad. Accordingly, author Tim Keller explains that doing justice includes "a broad range of activities from simple and honest dealings with people in daily life, to regular, radically generous giving of your time and resources, to activism that seeks to end particular forms injustice, violence, and oppression.”
Today, just as those who went before us, we must continue respond to the injustices of our day--child hunger, predatory lending, prison reform, a broken foster care system, the plight of refugees. These are just a few of the CLC's policy priorities this session. We would love for you to join us in this work, but maybe God has given you a heart for a different injustice. Whatever God has given you a heart for, we encourage you to get involved with an organization working to "defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Proverbs 31:9)"
Dr. King went to Birmingham because he believed that, like Paul, he was answering “a Macedonian call to aid.” We do not have to go to Birmingham to find injustice, for many of us there are people in our own communities who need our aid. What will be your Birmingham? Where will you lend your voice, your time, your resources? Like those who have gone before us, may we be willing take a stand for the oppressed.
Matthew Porter is the CLC's fall public policy intern. He is originally from Cape Girardeau, Missouri and is currently a Masters of Divinity candidate at Truett Seminary at Baylor University.