I'm reading the book The Hole in our Gospel by Richard Stearns (President, World Vision U.S.) and will write a full book review as soon as I am finish but, as I was reading, these words of Dr. King's really made me stop and think.
The word "extremist" has always been one of those words that is said in a slight whisper as if it was code for the boogie man to suddenly appear or shouted at someone to condemn those who don't think exactly like they do. Dr. King addressed this label of "extremist" from his jail cell in Birmingham.
But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . ." So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime--the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
Although I'm not likely to start using the label "extremist" in my everyday conversations for obvious social reasons, I would still like this principle to resonate deep in my soul. I would also really like this principle of extremism to affect the church which I so dearly love and all too quickly criticize. Dr. King had a few words on that as well...
So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent--and often even vocal--sanction of things as they are.
But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.
an irrelevant social club...oh snap!
We are disappointed....that is true. All we see is back biting and power tripping adults who sometimes should be in cradle roll singing about Jesus' love instead of teaching the Sabbath School Lesson. They are busy, exhausted and trying their best, but where is the church community surrounded by the glow of mutual respect and support? Where is the helping hand to the orphans and widows? Where is the...Love (wouldn't that be something if we sang Black-Eyed Peas on Sabbath morning..haha!) And in the words of Dr. King...where are the extremists for Love?
Hold on...just a minute...I have to get the log out of my right eye.
I am next up to bat. You are too. Mere seconds away from church boards, treasurers, and community outreach committees. What am I doing besides talking a lot more than I am acting. That isn't helpful now is it...nope, sure isn't. Lead by example they say, well perhaps that will be difficult to be examples to those who were examples to us. They raised us to be leaders though and are waiting for that day when they can pass the mantle. Perhaps they won't be super stoked with all of our ideas, but they can't be leaders for ever. Eventually they will have to trust us because they have no other choice. Doctrine and Social Justice can be friends. I believe it. The church can be a positive and supportive community. I believe it. The principle of extreme love that Jesus lived is possible. I believe it.
Dr. King warned the churches leader to not become "more cautious than courageous" and to stop "remaining silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows."
I am suddenly very overwhelmed with all of these ideas. It seems like a lot of work. Churches these days aren't so much known for their love, but for their judgment...it seems like a long road ahead to change that social stigma. Sometimes I want to give up...it seems too hard, too time consuming and frankly not worth it. But I love the church and finding truth is important. Being authentic and real and approachable is also important. Being the healthy and vibrant body of Christ is what we are going for. Well...how do we go about doing that? I'm guessing Dr. King would answer with a question...
Will we be extremists for hate or for love?
I hope we don't disappoint you Dr. King. I hope I don't disappoint me either, because somehow I have to find the motivation to get off my butt...and my high horse too...