I have a hobby collecting the writings of Dr. Martin Luther King. One of his most impactful writings is his 1963, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. Of the many notable things Dr. King wrote, the following resonates often with me:
“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.”
“Understanding vs. misunderstanding.” “Good will vs. ill will.” “People vs. people.”
I grew up in the Jim Crow era of institutionalized segregation in Louisiana. I was nine years old when Dr. King was assassinated in 1968. It was not until 1998 that the last vestige of legalized segregation was finally struck down by the courts in my home state. By that time I had transitioned to living in Tennessee, and in the most unpredictable of circumstances, I inexplicably became a member of West Park Baptist Church.
Since becoming a covenant member of WPBC, one of the things that I have come to love and appreciate deeply is this: West Parkers are by far people of love, understanding and good will!
That makes all the difference in the world to me. Why? Because of…
“Understanding vs. misunderstanding.” You know what drives the gulf between these two extremes? It’s not facts or a stronger position. It’s much simpler than that. It’s about “five seconds”. That’s the amount of time it takes to make the choice to listen or not. When you are in the right, and your brother (or sister) is wrong, the first step to helping them move to a better place is to demonstrate that you are willing to listen. Listening enriches dialogue. We desperately need more dialogue.
“Good will vs. ill will.” How have we allowed this gulf to become so wide in the Church of Jesus Christ? We must reclaim, and own, the sphere of good will. Good will is a fruit of the love that Jesus declares is the greatest of all—that we would lay down our lives for one another. I am afraid that if Jesus came back at this moment, he would declare how have you become people of ill will vs. good. We must continue to fight to reclaim this space.
“People vs. people.” “Imago Dei” Made in the image of God. First used in Gen. 1:27, this little phrase represents a powerful truth. When people are divided because of sin, it stains the beauty of God’s design. People of understanding and good will are resolute in their desire to stop pitting people against people. When Jesus declared what does it profit someone to gain the whole world and lose their soul, I think of the evil fruit of people vs. people.
So as we think about Dr. King’s vision, we certainly have come a long way. And while there is still a long way to go, if people, united by understanding and good will, resolve to live in the hope that we have in Jesus, progress will continue to the glory of God. It’s a legacy Dr. King would appreciate.