Just And Unjust

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The Rev. Ralph Abernathy, right, and Bishop Julian Smith, left, flank Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., during a civil rights march in Memphis, Tenn., March 28, 1968. (AP Photo/Jack Thornell)

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”
— Daniel 3:16-18

Dorothy and I sat on a wooden pew in the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA, and listened to a recording of one of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s stirring sermons, followed by his iconic, “I Have A Dream” speech that was punctuated by the words that will always be remembered, “Free at last, free at last, I thank God I’m free at last!”

In the spring of 1963, Dr. King was arrested for leading a series of massive nonviolent protests against the segregated lunch counters and discriminatory hiring practices rampant in Birmingham, Alabama. While in jail, King received a letter from eight Alabama ministers. They agreed with King’s goals but thought that he should call off the demonstrations and obey the law.

King disagreed, and his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail explains why: “One may well ask: How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others? The answer lies in the fact that there are two kinds of laws: just and unjust . . . One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” Then King quoted Augustine: “An unjust law is no law at all.”

How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? “A just law,” King wrote, “squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law . . . is out of harmony with moral law.” Then King quoted Thomas Aquinas: “An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.”

King stood squarely in the middle of a long Christian tradition, and more than (five) decades after his death, Christians are still influenced by his legacy. For example, those who engage in civil disobedience at abortion clinics believe that a law permitting the murder of 60 million unborn children is unjust—and therefore not a valid law at all. Thus we have the right—even the duty—to protest abortion. As we celebrate King’s birthday, it is well to remind ourselves of his great contributions, not just to the advancement of civil rights, but to the defense of a Christian view of the law. His writings are especially timely in an era when judges constantly exceed their authority—making the law for themselves, threatening the right of self-government, holding themselves accountable to no one.

The story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego reminds us that we must stand firm against all attempts to force us to do anything that would violate the laws of God. And we must join efforts to restrain out-of-control judges whose goal is to enforce not merely toleration of evil but everyone’s participation in it.

All but the preface of this article was taken from, “How Now Shall We Live? Devotional” by Charles Colson with Anne Morse (January 15)

To help us walk closer with God and to know Him better

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