Friday, January 16, 2015


Martin Luther King, United Methodist, Human Relations, Freedom and Responsibility

On Sunday, January 18, churches around the world will observe Human Relations Sunday and put our money where our mouths are in support marginalized persons and communities. On the same weekend, communities and service organizations worldwide are sponsoring MLK days of volunteer service.

King’s life and teachings call forth outpourings of service every year around MLK’s birthday. King himself, in word and deed, focused mainly on national issues. His salutary life was cut short just as he began to speak and teach on global issues. That unfortunate circumstance invites us to speculate a bit. 

What might MLK’s message be if he were preaching or teaching this Sunday somewhere in the world?

Speaking for myself, I’m quite certain that his remarks would take on a human rights focus since that was his perennial priority. And I’m fairly sure that he’d acknowledge that all people on earth live in pluralistic societies. He was an astute observer and pluralism is a global fact of life.

As he always did, King would advocate human freedom. He’d also recognize the limits to freedom. “No one has absolute freedom,” he’d probably caution. If someone oppresses others in words or deeds, or with taunts, the oppressing party has an obligation to back off. We do claim the right of free speech, he’d say, but we couple it with due consideration of the rights of others.

Condensing the message, “Responsible Freedom” rings out as a universal guideline that King would no doubt affirm. A person or community exercising the right of freedom should contemplate the corresponding obligation of responsible action. Freedom works in tandem responsible action. (The relationship between freedom and responsibility is explored at this link.

King might use an example from recent public life. A cartoonist rightly enjoys the precious freedom to create images and to present them to the public. But if an image mocks the ideals of a group and risks provoking a reaction that would endanger others and oneself, that cartoonist has a corresponding responsibility to hold back. If individuals do not, governments will. It’s far better that the informed individuals limit themselves.

Responsibility is the price of freedom in communities and societies, and the balance of those values should be taught from cradle up. We rightly claim the right of freedom. To retain that right we must couple it with responsible action. These are my thoughts on what MLK might advocate in January, 2015.
As always, thank you for reading.                 Darrell

Darrell Reeck, Ph.D., Boston University attained his doctoral degree in Social Ethics under some of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s doctoral professors.


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