Jan 16, 2017
Catholics can take a lesson in the courage to follow a well-formed Christian conscience from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. King was first and above all a Christian minister, guided by his faith in Jesus Christ. His Letter from Birmingham Jail is an actual letter, a response to Alabama clergymen who publicly criticized King for interfering in local affairs, pushing for human rights, and breaking the law while arguing other laws were unjust.
The clergymen wanted to know why King, an outsider, had come to Birmingham in the first place. King answered that he came because injustice was there. He argued that he could not sit idly by in Atlanta and ignore evil events in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere, felt King, is a threat to justice everywhere. People are linked in an inescapable network of mutuality, a single garment of destiny: "Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." King felt compelled to be in Birmingham. To stay in Atlanta would have violated his sense of what was just and morally necessary.
King then addressed the "troublemaker" charges leveled against him: "I must confess that I am not afraid of the word 'tension.' I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth." He was not naïve. He did not assume that progress would happen without human choice, action and sacrifice. Human history was not set on an automatic pilot to expand justice, freedom and equality under the law to all peoples. Certain people would need to create tension to push progress forward.
King's "weapon of non-violence" required him and his followers to willfully disobey unjust laws and accept the legal consequences. He knew that when a critical mass of his followers accepted the cost of changing bad laws, a tipping point would be reached, and events would turn in his favor.