The Teachings of Modern Christianity on Law, Politics, and Human Nature - Vol. 1

By John Witte Jr.; Frank S. Alexander | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 15
Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968)

TIMOTHY P. JACKSON

Any person … who shall be guilty of printing, publishing, or circulating print-
ed, typewritten or written matter urging or presenting for public acceptance
or general information, arguments or suggestions in favor of social equality
or of intermarriage between whites and negroes, shall be guilty of a misde-
meanor and subject to fine of [sic] not exceeding five hundred (500.00) dollars
or imprisonment not exceeding six (6) months or both
.

—MISSISSIPPI “JIM CROW” LAW

It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice, say-
ing “Stand up for righteousness, stand up for truth. God will be at your side
forever?

—MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.

Martin Luther King Jr. was neither an influential legal theorist nor a major systematic theologian. Rather, he was something much more necessary to his time, and arguably all times: a person of righteousness and faith who stood up for his convictions in obedience to God and in service to his neighbors. He was schooled in sociology and divinity, as well as skilled in practical jurisprudence, and he wrote very insightfully of his creed and causes. Yet King is included in this volume chiefly because he brought about constructive social change, by both legal and extralegal means, and because he inspired others to do the same. He embodied, above all, the “uses” of the law and theology, rather than their innovation or scholarly analysis. In short, he was a prophet rather than a pedant.

King courageously cross-fertilized Christian doctrines and democratic principles in a way that is rare today. In an age in which preeminent theorists of both the Christian church and the liberal state often seem to lose their way—by retreating into a narrow sectarianism on one hand and an

-439-

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