16 April 1963

My Dear Fellow Clergymen:

While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.”

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

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.

An excerpt from The Rev. Dr. Martin L. King,  A Letter from A Birmingham Jail

1 June 2020

Many of us were already tired of being tired – tired of staying indoors – tired of being disconnected – and tired of hearing conflicting messages of what is safe and what isn’t … and now, America now has the makings of violent summer that easily could surpass the Summer of ’67 in Detroit and many other urban cities.  We need to take all of these factors into account – a pandemic mixed with high unemployment mixed with images of violence perpetrated on Black folks losing breath … and losing life.

We are tired of being tired. And when we get tired, we have the tendency to want to give up.  Rather than catching coronavirus, we need to be careful not to catch a case of “Why Bother?”  Dr. King addressed the Christian church for its “weak, ineffectual voice” in the face of police brutality and the conditions that lead to the oppression of Black folks in America.  How eerie it is that his words read as if they were written for today.  It goes to show the more things change, the more they stay the same.

As Coordinator of the CLGS African-American Roundtable, I bring Dr. King’s words back to us for consideration as spiritual people who believe in and work for justice.  We do not know what the next few days, weeks, or months will bring, but I want us, as community caregivers, to play an important part in providing spiritual leadership during these uncertain times.  Organizing spaces for prayer and meditation (that are safe with proper social distancing), offering our buildings for rally or demonstration planning, joining in those public demonstrations wearing clerical garments or other identifiable shirts or pins from your spiritual community are some of the ways you can show you solidarity with Black and Brown people who are constant targets for violence.

My prayer is for the victims and perpetrators of violence.  My prayer is also for those of us who can and should respond to the needs of our community.

Rev. Dr. Roland Stringfellow, Coordinator of the African-American Roundtable | The Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion (CLGS) at Pacific School of Religion