Dr. King’s Wakeup Call to the Church Often Missed In Letter from Birmingham Jail

Cassie Fambro | cfambro@al.com
Cassie Fambro | cfambro@al.com

Many people simply assume Martin Luther King, Jr.’s letter from the Birmingham City Jail is about racial equality.

And it is.

But leaving the letter as yet another call for equal rights misses the larger, far less comfortable, message King leaves for the Church.

The letter wasn’t written to politicians, the media, or even the black community. It was addressed directly to the clergy in Birmingham. King did not mince his words when he spoke of the Church as “so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound.”

He wrote of a Church adrift, powerless and ineffectual in addressing the issues of the day. “Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church,” he wrote, “the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s often vocal sanction of things as they are.”

King lamented that churches “stand on the sidelines and merely mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities” in the face of clear injustices of the day.


I wish I had to wonder whether questions over the Church’s relevance were a thing of the past. I see the aging membership, I feel the frustration, and I hear the whispers of concern.

Many of the churches King encountered had become safe enclaves while suffering abounded around them. While he was disappointed, King carried a loving desire for the Church’s restoration.

He treasured the Church. After all, he was a fourth generation preacher.

He saw a vision of what the Church could be, but he was clear about the costs:

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SOURCE: AL.con – Cameron Smith

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