A Martin Luther King, Jr. Family Home Evening

I truly hope that Mormons around the United States (and elsewhere!) will make use of the fortuitous confluence of the (U.S.) national holiday commemorating the work and memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Monday evening Family Home Evening program that we enjoy in the Church.

My own investigation of the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. has led me to believe that he truly was a prophet for our day, preaching a message that we as a nation urgently needed to hear. He was, in effect, the Samuel the Lamanite of our times.

One possible format for such a “MLK FHE”

Use the Mormon Lectionary Project resource available through BCC:

– Use some of the scriptural foundation from the Martin Luther King, Jr. entry in the Mormon Lectionary Project. These scriptures include the following: Exodus 3:7-12, Isaiah 40:3-8, Psalm 77:11-20, Psalm 98:1-4, Luke 6:27-36, Helaman 13:25-29. Select one or two to read with the family, preferably shorter verses if you have young children. If you have older children who are interested in scripture study or history, consider reading all of the lectionary verses.

– Watch the entire “I have a Dream” Speech:

“I Have a Dream Speech,” August 28, 1963, Washington, D.C.

Another idea

"Fiery Furnace" (2011) by Chris Cook (http://tinyurl.com/lvgwfvk)

“Fiery Furnace” (2011) by Chris Cook (http://tinyurl.com/lvgwfvk)

Focus on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail.

– Explain that while in jail in Birmingham, Alabama for his work to end segregation he wrote the letter to religious leaders in the South who had expressed concern about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s work in the area of civil rights for black people and against segregation, and his use of civil disobedience as one method of pursuing that goal (in addition to his inspired sermons and personal work with religious and political leaders).

– Read selected portions of the Letter, including possibly this section:

We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our God-given and constitutional rights. . . .

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws. . . .

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was seen sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar because a higher moral law was involved. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks before submitting to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience.

We can never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. But I am sure that if I had lived in Germany during that time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers even though it was illegal. If I lived in a Communist country today where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I believe I would openly advocate disobeying these anti-religious laws. . . .

I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are presently misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with the destiny of America. Before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson scratched across the pages of history the majestic word of the Declaration of Independence, we were here. . . . If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands. . . .

– Read the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from Daniel 3:8-28.

* * *

When he wrote that “I am sure that if I had lived in Germany during that time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers even though it was illegal,” I believe him because he was practicing what he preached at that very time in Birmingham, Alabama and across the South. He acted in the face of the consternation and outright outrage of whites in the South and across the nation, and across all religious lines and denominations.

Many of us would confidently say the same — that in Hitler’s Germany we would have come to the aid of the Jews — but I think that we are only flattering ourselves by saying so. In all likelihood, we would not have. To our shame, neither our religion nor our inner moral compass would have been enough for us, ordinary people, to overcome our fears in the face of tyranny, torture, and death and stand up to the regime to succor God’s chosen people as they collectively suffered the fate of the scapegoat at the Day of Atonement. Some were strong-willed enough to disobey, to be sure (and many of those paid with their lives, though some only with their careers), but I suspect that many of us who claim we would have done so would not have.

Of course, one could think of many other ways to constitute such a wonderful Family Home Evening to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.’s inspired work and message! But let’s not miss this opportunity to teach our children about this great man and his inspired work.

Comments

  1. MLK’s prophethood is signified not only by his timeless nature (as relevant now as he was in the 1960s) but also by the fact that he transcends creed and culture. He is, and always will be, an American hero, but he also speaks to the world . . . still. I will try to honour him today from the land of Wilberforce.

  2. Yes, the timeless nature of his mission — just as relevant today as it was in the 1960s. I find it impossible to believe that anyone who actually reads the Letter from Birmingham jail could doubt that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a prophet in our times.

    I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. . . .

    Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. . . . If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. . . . I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. 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? . . .

    I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. . . . Let me take note of my other major disappointment. I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some notable exceptions. I am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken some significant stands on this issue. I commend you, Reverend Stallings, for your Christian stand on this past Sunday, in welcoming Negroes to your worship service on a nonsegregated basis. I commend the Catholic leaders of this state for integrating Spring Hill College several years ago.

    But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen. . . .

    When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows. . . .

    I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: “Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother.” In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

    I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?”

    Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

    There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. 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. . . .

    Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment. I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. . . .

    Before closing I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping “order” and “preventing violence.” I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department.

    It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handling the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather “nonviolently” in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia, but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As T. S. Eliot has said: “The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”

    I wish you had commended the Negro sit inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy two year old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: “My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest.” They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’ sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. . . . (emphasis added)

    “One day the South will recognize its real heroes.” Today is that prophesied day. Go see Selma and honor this legacy of prophecy and righteous action that we are blessed to receive virtually contemporaneously.

  3. Or watch Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Nobel Price acceptance speech for the MLK FHE. http://approachingjustice.net/2014/12/10/50-years-ago-today-mlks-nobel-peace-prize-acceptance-speech/

  4. For those of us with children who,are unlikely to stay focused on the entire speech, which is about 16 min long, I found this abridged version of the I Have a Dream Speech.

    http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=3vDWWy4CMhE

    I would love to think my kids would watch the whole speech, but I know better. I hope that by showing the shorter version, they will still have some mental focus for discussion.

    We have some extended family and neighbors who are very strong tea party followers, previously quite involved in the John Birch society. So we are trying to figure out how to raise that point of view, so they know that not everyone feels as we do, without privileging it too much.

  5. Catherine S says:

    We were already planning on having a MLK themed FHE, but I was so pleased to see that BCC thought of it too! Our 3 year old doesn’t understand who Martin Luther King Jr. was this year, and he probably won’t when we do it next year either, but we’re going to continue this tradition until one day he does, and so that we continue to remember Dr. King and the many others who started us on the path of true American greatness.

  6. Ours went well. Our 8 year old who spent the first 6 years of her life in an extremely diverse neighborhood and ward in East London was blown away that there is racism (even though we’ve watched the “I Have a Dream” speech every year on MLK day since she was four, including when we were living in England — she just doesn’t remember our discussions about this in the past).

    Our 11 year old had very pertinent questions and our 13 year old, who remembers our previous years’ experiences watching the speech, was able to pinpoint several of King’s Old Testament citations and his quotation of the Declaration of Independence and America the Beautiful. It was a very pleasant and parentally gratifying FHE!

  7. My kids are only 4,8, and 11 and we were pressed for time, so all we did was watch LeVar Burton’s episode about Martin Luther King from Reading Rainbow. Afterwards we talked about racism and discrimination. We sang “I’ll Walk With You” as our closing song. Interestingly, my son picked “Book of Mormon Stories” as our opening song (not one of my faves), but I was touched as I pondered the song’s repeated linking of living righteously and being free in the land with the life of Dr. King and so many others.

  8. We watched his “I Have a Dream Speech” though there is only so much you can do with 3 and 1 year old boys running around. However, as I started to explain to my six year old who MLK was she said, “I know who he is dad and let me tell you about Rosa Parks” and she told us what she had learned about her (I had no idea) and we talked about her story and how MLK was a part of the movement that Rosa Parks started. We talked about equality and fairness. I was brought to tears by my little girls knowledge and inherent recognition that treating others unfairly just because of what they looked like is unfair and not Christ like. It was a sweet moment.

  9. .

    We mostly did the Reading Rainbow thing.