Dear Rev. Dr. King,
I’m writing to you on what would have been your 86th birthday. This is not an update on race relations in America. Bishop White’s yearly epistles carry the heavy lifting in reminding those of us in pulpits and pews how far we’ve come and the great distance that remains.
My letter is to pose a series of questions; many of which may never be fully answered. Your legacy continues to be debated in our society today. As a prophetic voice, you saw how racism, poverty, and militarism worked together to alienate the idea of America from all Americans. I wonder, in the years following Birmingham and the passage of the Civil Rights Act and as your vision expanded toward injustices beyond America, how did Jesus shape your message? Did the kingdom of God matter to you in 1965 the same way it did in 1955? Had your views on Jesus evolved? I’ve been in ministry almost 18 years and I’ve never been beaten or arrested. Yet, my theology is still evolving. Surely, over time, how you saw the kingdom and the meaning of the resurrection changed. If you’re that close to reality of evil do you start to rethink the reality of good? I would love to talk to you about this; preacher to preacher.
In those crucial years of 1964-1968, how did you see the Poor People’s Campaign as your ministry? During the dark nights of the soul, who did you think was listening? Was it a God beyond the “ground of all being”? You’d studied Paul Tillich at Boston University in graduate school? I like to think it wasn’t some man who lives on a cloud in the sky. Who was God to you?
You came to realize that religion isn’t solely a matter of belief. Religion also involves a measure of action. God is found in the interactions between people. Then men who wrote to you while you were in the Birmingham jail had religion of the heart but they couldn’t translate it into positive change. They wanted the kingdom to wait. Why, I wonder, are we still asking God to wait on our schedule?