Civil Rights Movement

Faith of Our Fathers (Part 3) Family Devotional

"I Tremble For My Country"

Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, served in the Second Continental Congress, served as Secretary of State under George Washington, and as Vice President under John Adams. He was elected as our third and fourth President and served from 1801 to 1809.

Having national liberty means being free from undue or unjust government control. Thomas Jefferson recognized that people's liberties in a nation come from God who gave mankind a free will. He wrote that when we, as a nation, that our freedom comes from God, we begin abusing liberty and deprive others of liberty. In his 1784 book, Notes on Virginia, Jefferson wrote the following against slavery:
"And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that they are of the gifts of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever..."
Bible verses to read:
"And I will walk at liberty, for I seek Your precepts." - Psalms 119:45
"Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits..." - Psalm 103:2
Discussion questions: 
  1. What does it mean for a nation to have liberty?
  2. What is an example of liberty that you have in your life?
  3. Why is it important that our liberties ultimately come from God rather than man?
  4. Look up the word "licentious" in the dictionary. How is it similar to liberty and how is it different?

Martin and Jesus (Part 2): I Have a Dream

Christianity Reflected In Two Historic Writings From Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In my previous blog I highlighted Dr. King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." Now, let's take a look at his most famous speech.

I Have A Dream

Dr. King's famous "I have a dream" speech reflects his ideals rooted in biblical thinking. As Dr. King said:

"When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir....I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'"

He spoke of America's Founding Fathers' declaration of the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as "a sacred obligation" for "all God's children." He echoed I Peter 3:13-17 when he urged those who had suffered persecution to "continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive."

A public school teacher can read that New Testament passage to students and discuss its relevance to Dr. King's message. Likewise, students can study Isaiah 40:3-5 announcing the coming of Jesus because one of the things he dreamed of was the second coming of Jesus Christ!

"I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together."

This rarely-quoted portion of his speech reveals, again, the biblical foundation for his dream. Isaiah 40 speaks of deliverance and comfort. The chapter ends with the triumphant:

"He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint."

Dr. King's dream rose above a legal protection of equality. His dream looked forward to the day when men's hearts would be changed and there would be "a beautiful symphony of brotherhood."

Martin and Jesus (Part 1): Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Christianity Reflected In Two Historic Writings From Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

February is Black History Month. Many schools will highlight the contributions and accomplishments of various African-Americans in history. This provides an excellent opportunity for students to also learn about the influence of Christianity on the Civil Rights Movement. For example, if students are to truly understand Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s activities for Civil Rights, they need to understand how Christianity influenced his thinking.

In this blog, I will highlight his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." Next, I'll look at his "I have a dream" speech.

Letter From A Birmingham Jail

In his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," Dr. King answered a group of clergymen who had criticized him for his civil rights involvement. One of their accusations was that Dr. King was an extremist. His eloquent response is filled with biblical references. In addressing the accusation of extremism, Dr. King quotes Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
That portion of the Sermon on the Mount is found in Matthew 5:43-44. This passage is crucial to understanding what public school officials call Dr. Kings’ "religious dedication to nonviolence."
"But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.’"

Dr. King, then, refers to the Crucifixion as an example of "extreme" behavior:
It is well within legal boundaries for students to read Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount as well as to read the description of Christ’s crucifixion. How could a student truly understand Dr. King’s references without reading the actual stories from the Bible?
"In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime---the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists."

In the Supreme Court case of Abington School District v. Schempp, Justice Clark, writing the majority opinion, stated:

" might well be said that one’s education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization. It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities. Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment."

Without looking at biblical passages that Dr. King referred to in his writings, students are, unfortunately, receiving an education that the Supreme Court rightly asserts is "not complete."

A Largely-Forgotten History of the Civil Rights Movement

Whether you are a parent, a teacher, a pastor, or a Sunday school teacher, you should include teaching your children/students a mostly-forgotten part of the Rev. King's civil rights actions.

Below is an excerpt from a U.S. State Department website that reminds us of a largely-forgotten part of the non-violent protests for civil rights. I've linked the complete article, at our website. Click on the link below.

IMPORTANT REMINDER: You are not proselytizing for merely teaching your students about Dr. King's passionate insistence that his fellow protesters base their actions on Christian principles.

Excerpt from "The Martin Luther King We Remember" by Adam Wolfson and Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan

The Christian springs of King's statesmanship are abundantly evident. With the successful end of the Montgomery bus boycott, King founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in order to take the civil rights struggle and his nonviolent message throughout the South. One of his most trusted aides urged him to drop the word Christian from the new organization. It was argued that such an explicit religious reference would alienate white Northern liberals, whose support would be crucial in the years ahead. King was adamant, however, and the word Christian remained. He also insisted that civil rights participants be guided by Christian principles. For example, volunteers in the Birmingham campaign were required to sign a "Commitment Card" that read in part:

  1. MEDITATE daily 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 the 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.
Here's the link to read this on our website and link to the full article at the U.S. Department of State.