Christian “Extremists” and the Legacy of Dr. King

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You likely have heard by now that the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether the law school at U.C. Hastings is permitted to deny funding to the student Christian Legal Society on the basis that it requires a pledge to Christian beliefs and practices to become a member of the group. However, you may not have heard how U.C. Hastings characterized the issue to the Los Angeles Times:

Ethan P. Schulman, a San Francisco lawyer who represents the law school, said the Christian students are entirely free to meet informally on campus. “The real question is whether a law school is obliged to subsidize a group with student fees that is committed to discriminating against some students. If their position is accepted by the court, it could force universities across the country to subsidize discriminatory organizations, including possibly hate groups or extremist groups.”

A comparison of conservative Christian groups with “hate groups or extremist groups” is nothing new on university campuses. Some forego the “comparison” altogether and simply label Christian groups as outright extremists. And we Americans hate nothing more than extremism. However, in honor of the coming Martin Luther King Day, we might do well to remind our university leaders of the following words of Dr. King:

But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

Likewise, campus “Christian extremists” should take heart and not be silenced by the name-calling. If your campus is having any round-table discussions regarding Dr. King’s legacy (as my law school did), I would encourage you to attend and remind all present of the danger of silencing the extremists. Dr. King’s legacy might not exist at all.

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