What did MLK really stand for?

When America faces problems, exercising freedom of speech, respectful dialogue and responsible action is the appropriate way to solve and resolve. Riots, violence and hateful actions are unacceptable. But there are those in society who want to remake America into a politically intolerant, ideologically bigoted nation to fit their own agenda. And they will manipulate people, ideas and events in order to force that change. When people want to justify violence and hateful agendas by invoking the name of Martin Luther King, Jr., they are extremely misinformed, misled, and perhaps manipulated. Let’s take a look at what Martin Luther King, Jr.’s actual words and what he stood for.

King had six steps for protesting. “Step 1: Gather Information–Learn all you can about the problems you see in your community through the media, social and civic organizations, and by talking to the people involved. Step 2: Educate Others–Armed with your new knowledge, it is your duty to help those around you, such as your neighbors, relatives, friends and co-workers, better understand the problems facing society. Build a team of people devoted to finding solutions. Be sure to include those who will be directly affected by your work. Step 3: Remain Committed–Accept that you will face many obstacles and challenges as you and your team try to change society. Agree to encourage and inspire one another along the journey. 

“Step 4: Peacefully Negotiate–Talk with both sides. Go to the people in your community who are in trouble and who are deeply hurt by society’s ills. Also go to those people who are contributing to the breakdown of a peaceful society. Use humor, intelligence and grace to lead to solutions that benefit the greater good. Step 5: Take Action Peacefully–This step is often used when negotiation fails to produce results, or when people need to draw broader attention to a problem. It can include tactics such as peaceful demonstrations, letter-writing and petition campaign. Step 6: Reconcile–Keep all actions and negotiations peaceful and constructive. Agree to disagree with some people and with some groups as you work to improve society. Show all involved the benefits of changing, not what they will give up by changing.”

King wrote in an April 16, 1963 letter to clergy from the Birmingham jail, “One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all…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.” From Esther to Shadrach to Peter there is evidence of disobeying unjust laws, Acts 5:29: “Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, “We ought to obey God rather than men.””

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Bill Wilson