A Letter from a Birmingham Jail: 50+ Years Later

 

In honor of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I was asked to lead a forum that explored King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail sponsored by the Sam James Institute of the Summit Church in Durham, NC. Our hope was to reacquaint ourselves with the letter and its author, in order to discuss how the letter’s content is applicable today.  Here is an outline of the video marked by a timestamp:

  • Quotes by MLK (through 33:30)
  • Welcome by Bowe Butler (33:31)
  • Introductory Comments by JD Greear: Why this conversation is important for a church to have (35:37)
  • My introduction to Dr. King and the Letter from a Birmingham Jail (59:01)
  • Panel discussion (1:09:30)

 

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Thoughts for Church Gatherings after #AltonSterling #PhilandoCastile & #Dallas

 

candles

(Sorry for my silence this week, I’m spending much needed time on vacation with my family.  Due to the overwhelming number of inquiries from thoughtful ministers on these matters, I’ve decided to answer in a public manner.  Also, sorry I posted this so late in the day, I’m writing from the Pacific Time zone and not from my home on the east coast)

Dear Pastor/Church Leader,

It has been said that the thoughtful Christian holds the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.  The events of this week have gripped our hearts and made us cling to the promises of Scripture.

Church leaders from Sunday school/small group leaders to senior pastors are asking the question, should these events be mentioned in our Sunday morning service?  If so, what does that look like?

To the first question, my answer is a resounding, yes!  If Christian leaders do not teach their churches how to understand these events with a Christian worldview they will default to the patterns of their preferred news outlet (see talk called The Christian Life in Dialogue for help to think about the gospel and race).  Now the question becomes, what does it look like to bring these matters before the church?

To preface my suggestions, bringing these matters up does not mean that a church is necessarily taking sides with the #blacklivesmatter movement, police, or whomever.  As Christians you are siding with peace and justice.  This means that you have to make at least four items clear in your church service:

  1. Christians must admit that there is a problem of racial injustice in this country that is rooted in our own hearts and we must peacefully (yet powerfully) cry out against it.
  2. Christians must pray for police officers around the country as they are forced to make split-second decisions where life and death hang in the balance.
  3. Christians must pray for the families and friends of those whom lost their lives this week.  Now is not the time to scrutinize the previous misgivings of the deceased, let’s mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15).
  4. Christians must pray for abiding peace and unity in our country where there is obvious unrest.

These four ideas/values can be made known in a variety of ways.  The simplest way is to have a special prayer time in the service dedicated to these matters.  A leader can cry out to the Lord on behalf of the congregation, or the people can spend time at the alter or in the pews in prayer guided by these ideas.

Another way to incorporate these points into the service is to include them as specific application points of a sermon (if it fits the day’s text of Scripture).  Lastly, there can be an organized time of lament where Scripture from Lamentations can be read and prayers can be offered in this way.

Remember, everything teaches, even our silence.  If we do not raise these matters to the Lord in a manner that the Scripture teaches, then we are sending the message to God’s people that Scripture is silent on these matters and that they are free to think about it in whatever way they are naturally inclined.  I hope these thoughts are helpful.  Blessings to you as you lead God’s people.

Every blessing,

Walter