In the follow up to memorials for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. last week, and the divisiveness that plagues our nation fifty years later, we would do well to remember at least two significant aspects of his messages that can still affect us dramatically today.
First: conservative, liberals, those of other political persuasions and those of no particular official political persuasion would do well to remember that the issue is not the color of our skin but the content of our character. As Dr. King stated, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” President Donald Trump would do well to remember that. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi would do well to remember that. Jesse Jackson would do well to remember that. Leaders of evangelical churches would do well to remember that. K-12 school teachers, both public and private, would do well to remember that. Radio announcers would do well to remember that.
Second, in disobeying a law and going to jail for doing so, Dr. King wrote in his Letter from Birmingham Jail that that a just law is one that comports with a higher law. When we disregard that higher law, we are disregarding a reality as powerful as the natural law of gravity, but one which plays out in a different realm. When we play footloose and fancy free with the higher law and the moral component of it, we play with fire. King put it this way:
One may ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”
Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of Harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.
Again, President Trump would do well to remember that. Our U.S. Supreme Court Justices would do well to remember that. All of our legislators, federal and state, would do well to remember that. Those in administrative agencies, both national and state would do well to remember that. Our state governors would do well to remember that. Our media would do well to remember than. CEOs of major corporations and owners of small businesses would do well to remember that. Members of our churches would do well to remember that.
Dr. King was an imperfect man, as we all are. And certainly there are many more admirable parts of his legacy that do and should live on. But if we would remember…and apply daily these two keys as individuals, as members of communities, and citizens of this nation, our homes, our families, our communities, our states, and our nation would do well, not just socially, but politicly and economically:
- We should not base our decision on the color of the skin but the content out one’s character
- A just law is one that comports with the higher law.
Thank you, Dr. King.
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