(RNS) Clergy Answer King’s 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail

A coalition of Christian churches answered the Rev. Martin Luther King’s 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” conceding that Americans have often have chosen to be comfortable rather than “prophetic” on racism.

Leaders of Christian Churches Together in the USA, meeting in Birmingham, Ala., said they were “chastened by the unfinished nature” of overcoming racism after visiting Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where a bomb killed four young black girls in 1963.

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Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, History, Other Churches, Parish Ministry, Race/Race Relations, Religion & Culture

5 comments on “(RNS) Clergy Answer King’s 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail

  1. David Keller says:

    Maybe someone can put a finger on it, but there was a response by the Episcopal Bishop of Alabama in which he called for retaining the status quo. I had a copy of it in my desk at one time, but I can’t find it now.

  2. Jeremy Bonner says:


    Charles Carpenter (along with seven other Alabama clergymen, including his coadjutor, George Murray) wrote a letter that prompted King to pen “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” You can read it [url=http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/frequentdocs/clergy.pdf]here[/url]. It’s a little harsh to describe it as a call to maintain the status quo; rather, it advocates gradualism, describing public demonstrations “unwise and untimely,” but also calling for “honest and open negotiation of racial issues in our area.”

    In the context of George Wallace’s Alabama, you [i]could[/i] make that argument on pastoral grounds, but equally you could see why King and others found it completely unsatisfactory.

    [url=http://catholicandreformed.blogspot.com]Catholic and Reformed[/url]

  3. Jeremy Bonner says:

    Should have been: [i]describing public demonstrations [b]as[/b] “unwise and untimely,”[/i]

  4. Jeremy Bonner says:

    For good measure, there’s [url=http://dioceseprofile.atsa-usa.com/where-weve-been.php]this[/url] from the Alabama episcopal search process:

    [i]Carpenter’s leadership during the Civil Rights movement is still controversial and disputed, but it seems fair to say that he was more backward-looking than forward-looking during the Civil Rights struggle. On two very significant occasions Carpenter took positions that would paint him and the people he led as reactionaries. When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., announced plans to demonstrate in Birmingham during Holy Week, 1963, Carpenter and six other religious leaders urged King to wait. King responded devastatingly in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” pointing out that “to the Negro, ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never’.” Two years later when King organized the Selma to Montgomery march for voting rights, Carpenter did everything in his power to prevent Episcopal clergy from participating in the march, which he termed “foolishness.” However, it should be noted that Carpenter had good relationships with black clergy in his diocese; he facilitated meetings between Birmingham’s black and white leadership in his office; and it was on his watch that Camp McDowell was integrated.[/i]

  5. David Keller says:

    Thanks Jeremy. Maybe “ststus quo” wasn’t exactly the right word to use, but he was urging King to stay off the streets, tell people from outside Alabama to stay away and use the courts for protection. Of course, many of the “outsiders” were lawyers who were trying to force the courts to take action. For the times, maybe that was the best he could do, but staying off the streets, keeping outsiders from Alabama and using the courts, which was a waste of time for balcks in 1962, was hardly stepping out in front.