Faith that Moves Mountains

Written by Stephen R. Haynes

Reflections from Memphis on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the 40th Anniversary of his Death

An Introduction
Several years ago I was asked to lead a discussion of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail" for business executives in one of my college's continuing education programs. Having taught the letter to undergraduates for years, I agreed, certain that this teaching assignment would not require much preparation.

I later learned that the program had its own curriculum that introduced a series of classic texts by relating them to the challenges faced by business people in contemporary America. A worthy goal no doubt, but one that, in King's case at least, was purchased at a steep price. For in applying the struggles of the civil rights movement to the experiences of women in corporate America, the curriculum chose to ignore the religious dimensions of King's legacy.

Of course, anyone who has read it knows that it is impossible to understand "Letter from Birmingham Jail" without reference to faith. It was written to fellow clergymen and includes dozens of references to the Christian theological tradition, invoking Jesus, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Bunyan, Paul Tillich and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I pointed these things out, much to the chagrin of the course's facilitator.

This experience illustrates something about the reception of King's legacy over time. As King is squeezed into the mold of American hero, it is the religious and theological aspects of his life that tend to drop away, and with those his identity as a pastor, preacher and theologian. The reflections that follow attempt to refocus our attention by viewing King in a religious light, the light that illuminated his own path on this earth.

Copyright ©2008 Stephen Haynes

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