Jan 23, 2020
category: Literature

Martin Luther King in his letter of response to the Call for Unity by a group of clergymen based in the small town of Birmingham sites many religious examples to help him make his case. Here he was accused by the clergymen of taking part in the businesses of their town and interrupting the order. He wrote the letter from a jail in Birmingham, and the letter was written on the 6th of April 1963. The main aim of writing the letter to the clergymen was to prove his point in the fight against racism. In addressing the clergymen, King skillfully employs religious examples and analogies that they can hardly argue with. King provides numerous examples from the Bible, and he knows that this would not go unnoticed by the clergymen considering they were men of God and knew the Bible well.

Just as the Israelites were suffering in Egypt and they called upon the Lord to help them out of their predicament, so were the people of Birmingham, and this is why he responded to their cries of racism and segregation. The example of the story of the Israelites is a good one in this case as the clergymen are quite aware of the story and can relate to it quite easily. He was aware that by using such a famous story from the Bible and alluding it to the circumstances that led to his presence in the town would help pass the message across and justify his presence in the small town of Birmingham. The significance of this point is in the similarity of how the Israelites were going through oppressions, because they had no liberty and rights to help them. This was the case with racial discrimination and segregation seen in Birmingham. This would also mean that the people of Birmingham needed someone to come to their aid just as Moses did during the time of injustices against the Israelites.

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In his letter, King says that he is in the prison in Birmingham, because injustice was committed. He goes ahead to say that it was the same case with the prophets in the 18th century. Here he is trying to bring out the point that even religious leaders who were fighting for truth in the past were also convicted even though they were fighting for a worthy cause. “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream. Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel” (p. 24).

The Macedonian Churches ask Paul for help in the New Testament, and the King alludes to this story in his letter. This is similar to his situation where the people of Birmingham were seeking assistance from a person outside their town who understood their grievances and was in the best position to help them. Whenever people in the Bible needed assistance, they used to ask for help from a person they knew was in the best position to help them. Therefore, why in this case would the people of Birmingham fail to ask for the help of Martin Luther King when they were aware he could help them? “But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid” (p. 3).

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In the Bible, prophets left their villages to go out and spread the gospel to people in different parts of the world. It is also clear that the clergymen were aware that they had a responsibility to spread the gospel to every corner of the earth with no one questioning their presence in their city. This was the aim of Martin Luther King Junior when he brings the example of eight prophets who went round spreading the word. This case is similar to Paul who went to different cities spreading the word and preaching to people. Martin Luther King Junior sees this as a similar mission where he has to go to every part of the country to make sure that everyone is liberated and no one is going through any form of injustice. As people expected no one to deter Paul and the prophets from going to different places to spread the word, so is Martin Luther in his mission in Birmingham. In this letter, King aims at appealing to both prophetic impulses and rationalism in the argument that democracy was inherent to all human beings.

These religious quotes that King keeps repeating in the letter show that he knew that the only way he could persuade the clergymen of his mission in the city was by alluding to what they dealt daily. Through his reconciliatory tone, he is able to bring in a convincing argument with the use of religious and political views that cannot go unnoticed as one reads the letter. He does not forget to appeal to the clergymen to forgive him, and at the end of his letter he says, “If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me” (p. 38).

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