The Danger of Moderation



I’m writing this on MLK Day.


The non-violent protests for voting rights in the 1960’s, particularly in Alabama, had raised the ire of white pastors. Having recently re-read his Letter From Birmingham Jail (addressed to his “Fellow Clergymen”), there were two sections that leapt off the page for me. A primary concern was what he called “white moderates” and their half-hearted concern for the blatant injustices shared by their brothers and sisters of color. As King put it, “Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” And then he wrote these profound words:

“I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: ‘All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.’ Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. . . . Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. . . . “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?”

Wow. Am I an extremist for love? What is my concern for those who don’t yet know God? Where is my heart for the injustices in my world?...For the suffering of those trapped in suffocating cycles of poverty or addictions or racism?


What would I write from a claustrophobic jail cell today?




Dave Workman | ELEMENTAL CHURCHES “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other!” (Rev. 3:25 NLT)