“The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority. If the church does not participate actively in the struggle for peace and for economic and racial justice, it will forfeit the loyalty of millions and cause men everywhere to say that it has atrophied its will. But if the church will free itself from the shackles of a deadening status quo, and, recovering its great historic mission, will speak and act fearlessly and insistently in terms of justice and peace, it will enkindle the imagination of mankind and fire the souls of men, imbuing them with a glowing and ardent love for truth, justice, and peace. Men far and near will know the church as a great fellowship of love that provides light and bread for lonely travelers at midnight.”
Martin Luther King Jr., "A Knock at Midnight”, 11 June 1967.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr has been a part of my life since his death on April 4, 1968. He died the day before my birthday in Memphis where I was a senior medical student. At the time the only thing I could concentrate on was finishing medical school, but his death in the city where I was struggling to find myself and my career made me turn my head and look outside of my own small isolated world. Many others were changed as well. In the next few days the dean of the cathedral where I worshiped, William Dimmick, took the processional cross from St. Mary’s Cathedral and led a march down Popular Avenue to the Mayor’s office to try to stop the violence and the sanitation worker’s strike that had brought King to Memphis. He lost half of his congregation because of his bravery.
King is writing to remind us that the church is not the voice of the status quo. Certainly that was not Jesus’ message as well. So many people come for spiritual direction because they disagree with what is going on in their church and they are leaving it. I see King’s message is just not to the church but to its members. If we see what is wrong in our church, that the church is only serving itself and the wealthy and not working for justice and peace for all, we must try not to leave it if possible. The church we grew up in or the church we have come to love will only make changes when the people within it like us move for change. Our leaving it will not make a difference. Of course, there are times when the air in the church has become too toxic, and we must leave it for the sake of our soul. But if we can, we must work to change it and speak up to remind the church of Jesus’ and King’s message, to “provide light and bread for lonely travelers at midnight.”