January 21 , 2013
A Closer Look with Sheila Liaugminas
First, respect the fact that he was the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Reverend first.
Everything he preached and said and wrote was based on the Gospel and the example of Christ. His niece Dr. Alveda King tells me that in every interview. But it’s self-evident in his writings and speeches.
Politicians and social activists who stand on his shoulders today and invoke his name and memory selectively skip over the most siginficant part ofhis identity.
Martin Luther King Day is a time to promote racial harmony in America and honor the slain civil rights leader who was “inspired by the teachings of Christ,” says the head of the Knights of Peter Claver.
“Considering that so many ‘church-going folks’ were supporting segregation and Jim Crow laws during the civil rights movement, it is wonderful that King dedicated his life to employing Christ’s teachings to resist and counter the very social sins of prejudice, racial discrimination and segregation,” Supreme Knight F. DeKarlos Blackmon told CNA Jan. 18.
He said Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. a Baptist minister, was “a man of faith and deep conviction” who studied Catholic theology and was “particularly impressed” with St. Augustine.
And St. Thomas Aquinas. Kathy Schiffer gives perspectivehere, starting with a snip from King’s ‘Letter From Birmingham Jail.’
How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.
Was Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. a Thomist?
Well, yes. Thomas Aquinas argued that laws bind the conscience—that is, obligate one to obey—only when the laws conform to “eternal law.”…
So Martin Luther King, Jr. is, in fact, a Thomist. In his famed Letter from a Birmingham Jail, he argued that a nonviolent campaign follows four stages:
1. collection of facts to determine whether injustice actually exists;
2. negotiation in order to resolve the matter peacefully;
3. self-purification, in which there is careful preparation for nonviolent direct action;
4. direct action through nonviolent means.
Were the civil rights protestors in 1963 offending God when they broke the law and sat at a lunch counter, or refused to give up their seat on the bus to a white person? No, said Dr. King; and to prove that, he cited Aquinas’ argument. “Any law that degrades human personality,” said King, “is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality.”
What King did was skillfully apply Aquinas’ Third Objection—teaching that the South’s segregation laws were unjust because of the moral and physical injury they induced.
Dr. Alveda King, niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., continues his legacy of peaceful protest today—reminding us that her uncle was pro-life. Had King lived to see the dire consequences of Roe v. Wade, the innocent children torn apart in the womb, he would have applied Aquinas’ logic to this most pressing societal ill.
Correct. Dr. Alveda King affirmed that, eloquently, in our discussion today, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, on the eve of the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. “Uncle Martin was pro-life and would be in the pro-life movement today,” she said. “If you read or listen to his words, you can see that he promoted and respected the life of all God’s children.”