This weekend I finished the Hillsdale College free online course titled, “Civil Rights in American History.” I didn’t plan the completion to coincide with the observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but that is how it fell out. I really enjoyed the course. In observance of the day, I’ll share some of what I have learned about Dr. King. I think it is particularly relevant given the day and the national events that currently consume us.
Dr. King is of course known as being a civil rights leader who very effectively employed civil disobedience to effect positive change in America. the decision to resort to civil disobedience (i.e. breaking the law) was not taken lightly by Dr. King. He insisted that only immoral laws could be challenged, and then that law must be broken openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the consequences of one’s actions.
So how did Dr. King approach civil disobedience? First, he went to an area and collected the facts. Did discrimination actually occur? Was there truly injustice? If so, he proceeded to the next step – he negotiated for change; he sought redress. He appealed to the people and to the courts. If this didn’t work, he called on his followers to commit to “self-purification.” This ensured that moral ends were pursued by moral people using moral means. In Birmingham Alabama, Dr. King asked his follows to pledge to conduct themselves in a way that would reflect credit upon the movement. A pledge card contained “ten commandments” that Dr. King felt met that goal.
1. Meditate on the teachings and life of Jesus.
2. Remember always that the nonviolent movement in Birmingham seeks justice and reconciliation – not victory.
3. Walk and talk in a manner of love, for God is love.
4. Pray daily to be used by God in order that all men might be free.
5. Sacrifice personal wishes in order that all men might be free.
6. Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.
7. Seek to perform regular service for others and for the world.
8. Refrain from the violence of fist, tongue, or heart.
9. Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.
10. Follow the directions of the movement and of the captain on a demonstration.
It should come as no surprise that Dr. King, being a Baptist minister, would include Christian imagery in his instructions. For my non-Christian friends however, I’ll point out that Dr. King did not require one to be a Christian to participate. He thought however, that even non-Christians can learn from the life and teachings of Jesus, that one needn’t recognize that God is love to walk in love, and that whether one sees it as a wish or a prayer, one should aspire for all men to be free. We’ve seen a great deal of protests in recent years. Some even claim to assume the mantle of Dr. King’s quest for equality. We have however, seen little of Dr. King’s methods or teachings in those protests.
Violent demonstrations that topple statues, that burn down and/or loot business, or that assault political opponents do NOT in any way honor Dr. King’s legacy, and smashing windows at the U.S. Capitol and menacing elected officials is just as dishonorable.
I denounce ANY demonstration of “civil disobedience” that rejects the spirit of Dr. King’s work and teachings… I don’t care what political affiliation one subscribes to, and I don’t care how righteous or honorable one believes their intentions to be. Their actions are wrong. Period.
Dr. King wrote, “I have consistently preached that non-violence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make it clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends.“
P.S. This synopsis is all from half of one of nine lectures. It was a very good course. If you are interested in taking the course, it is self-paced and FREE. The whole thing takes about five hours. If you are interested, you can sign up at the following link: