“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.”
— “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
The words of challenge found in the Rev. Martin Luther King's “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” have inspired numerous people over the years, including two Oklahoma City clergymen.
Both the Rev. Bill Pruett and the Rev. Rick Thompson said King's letter to Birmingham's clergy resonate with them.
“I think it is one of the most powerful I've ever read,” Pruett, pastor of St. James Catholic Church, 4201 S McKinley, said, adding that his biblical foundation reverberates in much of King's writings and speeches. “He was fundamentally a Baptist preacher — speaking for him was preaching.”
However, the ministers, along with several other metro religious leaders, said King's ideas and writings are not just thought-provoking. The clergy said the slain civil rights leader's social justice concerns — rooted in biblical principles — are still relevant today and should inspire people to action.
“His message is more relevant today than it's ever been before,” Pruett said.
“It's startling that we can be so indifferent to other people. We've lost our sense of the common good.”
The Rev. A. Byron Coleman, senior pastor of Fifth Street Baptist Church, 801 NE 5, agreed.
“He (King) would be concerned not just about where we are in terms of racial justice issues and economic issues, but where we are on how we treat one another,” Coleman said. “We are more socially fragmented than ever before.”
Coleman, 42, said he graduated from Morehouse College in 1993 which King had attended years before. He said Morehouse students were taught that they had a responsibility to address the cares of the community — the black community and the community-at-large.
“If Dr. King were here today in 2013, on the one hand he would challenge the moral compass of our nations and on the other hand, he would challenge the moral compass of the black community,” Coleman said. “He would be concerned about the lack of resources in the black and Hispanic communities. He would be concerned about the lack of health care. He would be concerned about the gerrymandering in the black community. He would be concerned about how we treat each other.”
Vered Harris, rabbi of Temple B'nai Israel, 4901 N Pennsylvania, said King's quest for truth, equality and justice is still needed today.
“Every time I read the news, I see that we are a nation and a world struggling to reveal truth or to cover it up, to celebrate freedom or to squelch it, to promote equality or to hamper it,” she said. “Dr. King's message was the message of the prophets of the Bible: to unlock the shackles of injustice, to undo the fetters of bondage, to let the oppressed go free and to break every cruel chain (Isaiah 58:6).
He (King) would be concerned not just about where we are in terms of racial justice issues and economic issues, but where we are on how we treat one another. We are more socially fragmented than ever before.”
The Rev. A. Byron Coleman,
Senior pastor of Fifth Street