A Pastoral Message for Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Date posted: Sunday 16 January 2022

I first read Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” as a high school senior. Written in April 1963 after his arrest during a public demonstration in Alabama, King used this letter to respond to white clergy colleagues, who had criticized his involvement in civil protest. I read this remarkable epistle again this year, hearing it now from the perspective of my own role as a white church leader 59 years later.


As we remember Martin Luther King on this national holiday, along with thousands of other leaders of color, who with valor and courage have called us as a nation to live out our deepest moral values, I am sobered by King’s insights about the hesitation of church folks to speak out, show up, and actively address the laws or the systems that keep racism and racial inequities alive within our country and our religious communities.


“So here we are moving toward the exit of the twentieth century,” King wrote in 1963, “with a religious community largely adjusted to the status quo, standing as a taillight behind other community agencies rather than a headlight, leading men (and women) to higher levels of justice.”1


I doubt that quote gave me pause as a teenager, but it is sobering for me to read these words nearly 60 years later. I am grateful for all the people and experiences that have refined my own conscience and quickened my resolution to address in this day the roadblocks that keep us from living fully and respectfully with one another, as God created us to live in our common humanity.


On this holiday, I hope you will take time to reflect on the brave voices that continue to call us forward in the lifelong work of addressing injustice and complacency. And as people of faith, I hope you will join me in recommitting yourself to the hard work of insuring voting rights, access to education and medical care, housing and employment in a way that is equitable for all in our communities.


Yours in God’s service,

Bishop Patricia Lull




1 Martin Luther King, Jr, “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, I Have a Dream: Writings and Speeches That Changed the World, Harper San Francisco, 1992, page 96.