Thursday, July 31, 2008

Martin Luther or Martin Luther King, Jr.?

This is, in part, a follow-up to my post a few days ago that included a Ransomed Heart letter. John Eldredge makes an excellent (and I believe correct) argument for creating a distinction between people/groups/organizations. Okay, he didn't say that, but in many ways, that's a conclusion from pointing out a difference.

At the same time, there is a TON of dialogue at the moment about reconciliation and bridging differences. How many commercials and PACs are there right now emphasizing a joining of the major American political parties? It's quite amazing, actually. Even my research has focused on interfaith peacemaking and the similarities between disparate people. The movement in American society, it seems, it toward reconciliation rather than emphasizing differences.

And this is often presented in a way that makes comments like Eldredge's seem negative and unholy. Conflict is viewed as evil.

Yet conflict is not evil. Viktor Frankl (I take my psychological theoretical orientation from him) stated that conflict is not only good, but necessary to find true meaning in one's life. A Christian peacemaking organization also recently posted some ideas about the necessity of conflict and adversity. The grant that led to my aforementioned research was entitled the Conflict Transformation Grant. I commented on this during one of our meetings, noting that our goal is not to remove conflict, but transform it into something glorious rather than disastrous.

I begin to think about people we look to as the quintessential peacemakers, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Ghandi, and Mother Teresa, all of whom won the Nobel Peace Prize. They were not exactly afraid of conflict. In fact, the first two created a LOT of conflict. But it was holy conflict. It was calling out evil for good.

But when it comes to the church, such calling out is not viewed positively in today's time. In never really has. We seek ecumenicism and the breaking down of denominational boundaries (which I largely am a strong proponent of). Yet it seems that we sometimes promote this to the extreme, being more devoted to the organization than Jesus Christ, as Eldredge ends his letter with.

Martin Luther was one individual who faced this exact criticism. Many people agreed with his ideas, but disagreed with his methods because the methods would lead to the fracturing of the church organization. The Catholic Church actaully tried to assassinate him because of his actions. If you ever read his works, he had an incredibly firey tongue. He was not a person I would want to get on the wrong side of. Frankly, I doubt he would ever be a contestant for the Nobel Peace Prize because of these things.

My inclination is to think that is quite sad and wrong. As a Protestant, I think he was a holy impetus to the Reformation (I say impetus because many people for a century had the same ideas, but were often silenced or killed; Martin Luther was in the right zeitgeist). He actually did attempt to the reform the Catholic Church first, but left it when he saw it was a hopeless endeavor (until about 100 years later when the Church accepted most of his reforms). He was more committed to the True Gospel of Jesus Christ than the organization. For that, I kind of see him as a peacemaker.

As I was planning on writing this, I saw more of a dichotomy between Martin Luther and Martin Luther King, Jr., with the latter being more "passive." As I'm thinking about this more, I'm not so sure that's the case. However, my sense is that history views MLK as more of a bridger and Martin Luther as more of a separatist. Separatists are not viewed as peacemakers, in part because of biblical versus, like "You shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in."

That's fair. However, sometimes separation and divide is necessary. Often we do things to "keep the peace." Is it really peace, or is it maintaining the status quo, which makes things feel more comfortable? For those who know me, I'm often not one to just "keep the peace." I don't like the status quo for the sake of the status quo.

In that way, I feel more like the "insurgent" and "revolutionary" Martin Luther than the "passive" and "peaceful" MLK. I put those words in quotes because, again, Martin Luther wasn't one to pick up a sword; he took actions that seemed a lot like passive resistance. And MLK, while nonviolent, was very aggressive with his words and was a revolutionary. He definitely divided people.

So when is it appropriate and acceptable to be divisive versus unitive?

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