Quotes

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on July 22, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 649

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was seen sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar because a higher moral law was involved. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks before submitting to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. 

Contrary to what the White churchmen King addresses appear to believe, the struggle for civil rights is not simply a legal cause: it is also a moral crusade. While the clergymen condemn King and his supporters for their willingness to break laws, King argues that if justice would prevail, it is sometimes necessary to disobey immoral laws, such as in the case of the laws that enforce segregation. King is attacking the White churchmen’s narrow legal interpretation of the civil rights issue; he wants them, as Christians, to acknowledge that they have an obligation to a higher law—the moral law of God—and that any law out of line with it should be disobeyed. In this allusion to an Old Testament story, King calls upon the churchmen’s sense of religious duty: surely they wouldn’t condemn Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego for their civil disobedience. Thus, sometimes existing laws must be disobeyed in obedience to higher laws. 

Illustration of PDF document

Download Letter from Birmingham City Jail Study Guide

Subscribe Now
It was during that period that the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was the thermostat that transformed the mores of society.  

In this passage, King calls Christians to take a leading role in society once more. Instead of merely reacting to events and obeying the law for obedience’s sake, as they do now, they should be shaping society. In the early days of the Church, Christians actively challenged the prevailing power structure, as they were secure in the conviction that they were doing the Lord’s work. 

Things are different now. The contemporary Church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch supporter 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 vocal sanction of things as they are. 

Instead of leading the...

(The entire section contains 649 words.)

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this Letter from Birmingham City Jail study guide. You'll get access to all of the Letter from Birmingham City Jail content, as well as access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

  • Summary
  • Themes
  • Characters
  • Analysis
  • Quotes
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial
Previous

Analysis

Explore Study Guides