Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. day in the United States but for people everywhere, and for Christians in particular, King is a central figure in the 20th century. Many of us call King a saint in our time. There is no doubt that without King the struggle for civil rights, the cause of African-American peoples, and the head on collision with racism of every kind would not have happened as quickly or as peacefully as it did. King gave many speeches, the “I have a dream” address is likely his most famous. But for me the two that stand out was the speech he gave the night before he was assassinated (“I have seen the promised-land…I may not get there with you”) and his indictment of those who have good intentions but do nothing, the good person who remains silent in the face of evil.

Martin Luther King Jr. gave many speeches, shared many sermons, wrote many articles but his quotes remain powerful. Here are some of my favorites:

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

“The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.”

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”

“We will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

“Pity may represent little more than the impersonal concern which prompts the mailing of a check, but true sympathy is the personal concern which demands the giving of one’s soul.”

“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.”

“The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me? But…the good Samaritan reversed the question: If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”

I remember a conversation I had once with a man who had opposed gay rights in the church. It was decades ago and he was from another denomination and was visiting our Maritime Conference as a visitor. I asked him, “When your children and grandchildren ask you where you stood, how you acted, on which side you were on, in the struggle for gays and lesbians to be seen and treated as normal people like you and me, eligible for the same opportunities as you and me, given respect like you and me, don’t you ever worry what you will say?” I was quick to add that all of shift positions on various issues; while I may always have been pro-gay/lesbian and pro-feminist I was once very Pro-Life and anti any kind of euthanasia. But I moved. I don’t think our grandchildren would judge us for once having a different point of view in a different time. But once our eyes have been open, once we see justice for what it is, who it is, I think then our children and grandchildren will wonder where we stood, what we said and did.