On Facebook, a post is going around asking people to show the books that have influenced them the most. For me, it’s a no brainer. The Bible, also known as the Word of God. I’ve read it multiple times and continue to read it daily.

A distant second is not really a book, but a lengthy letter written by Martin Luther King Jr. from his Birmingham jail cell. I first read it in Letters of a Nation edited by Andrew Carroll. MLK’s words caused me to think in deeper terms about racism and its oppressive effects. His words come from a minister’s heart and from someone whose experiences were vastly different from mine. He’s not some commentator on a news show or a talking head giving their interpretation of what someone said or some organization’s meme. These are his words, the leader of a peaceful movement that accomplished a lot. While progress has been made, we still have a ways to go, and his basic tenets still hold true 57 years later.

I’m providing excerpts from his letter that are especially meaningful to me. I urge you to read his letter for yourself. He references the Bible in many places, which are often cut out for PC’s sake. This link gives the whole letter, unabridged. Scroll past the envelope photo to reach the text. Please take the time to read and consider what he said.

In your statement you asserted that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But can this assertion be logically made? Isn’t this like condemning the robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn’t this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical delvings precipitated the misguided popular mind to make him drink the hemlock? Isn’t this like condemning Jesus because His unique God-consciousness and never-ceasing devotion to His will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see, as federal courts have consistently affirmed, that it is immoral to urge an individual to withdraw his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest precipitates violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber…

I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth of time. I received a letter this morning from a white brother in Texas which said, “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but is it possible that you are in too great of a religious hurry? It has taken Christianity almost 2000 years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.” All that is said here grows out of a tragic misconception of time. It is the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time is neutral. It can be used either destructively or constructively. I am coming to feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be coworkers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation...

Over the last few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. So I have tried to make it clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or even more, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends...

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