Doing The Right Thing: Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ethics

As many of you know, I am very fond of Chuck Colson’s Doing the Right Thing video series. It is a magnificent series on ethics and business ethics.

At one point in the series, they are talking about the ethics of laws. Most importantly, when is it acceptable to break the law because the law is immoral. One of the speakers brought up Martin Luther King’s letter from the Birmingham jail. He said that Martin Luther King had a brilliant theory as to the ethics of the situation.

We all know, if you are not familiar with his letter it is a great read, that Dr. King was upset at the lack of support of civil rights from white pastors. So, a majority of his letter is an explanation of why the church should care and fight for civil rights in America.

Of pertinence to ethics, though, is why he was in jail in the first place. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” he wrote. But he know that a lot of the pastors were reasoning that breaking the law was not proper in any context and were writing him off because he broke the law.

This is where Dr. King’s words serve as an ethical basis for problems we face today:

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.

This is how we know that a law is unjust. But how do we go about opposing such a law? And this is key:

I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty.

In America, we have several unjust laws which defy the commitment to laws having a root in eternal and natural law. Abortion on demand being the foremost and one that I will use here.

The unborn child has fell victim to modern segregation. It has been segregated because of its stage in development as opposed to its race. Something, that if it happened in the latter stages of human development would be met with an outcry (we hope). And there are many laws that are in place that ensure the child will never get their rightful eternal and natural law protections. As a Christian and as the church, do we have a right to break those laws? I argue yes. They are unjust laws with no root in eternal and natural law.

But, here is the ethical understanding, we must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty.

The Federal government used over $340million of tax money to aid in the aborting of millions of children via Planned Parenthood. Some Christians feel it is immoral for them to pay their federal taxes. Should they? If not, they must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty.

Tomorrow marks the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. 55 million voices were snuffed out before they could even cry. A whole two generations of Americans who got their right to life, not from God, but from their mothers. Culturally, this has devastated our moral fabric. And it is just getting worse. America re-elected the most pro-abortion President we have ever had. He had a chance to vote to extend legal protections to babies born during botched abortions. He voted to cast them in the trashcan. Through Obamacare, he has forced many hospitals, doctors, and businesses to choose between their religious beliefs on abortion and their business.

Legally and ethically we are going to have many hard choices ahead of us.

I am an abolitionist. There is no need to take away a child’s 5th amendment rights because of the stage of development they are in. None. It may be easier on your conscience to do so in certain cases because they are weak. But it is not in mine. And the laws that prevent their rights are unjust laws.

Instead of some Americans focusing so much on implied rights within our constitution, I wish they would spend a little more time obeying the real written ones.

In the three minutes it took you to read this post, 9 more children were deprived of their fifth amendment rights. More importantly, thanks to the Federal tax and Obamacare policies…we all have blood on our hands.

The time will sadly come when we will have to make tough choices:



With a willingness to accept the penalty.

That is an amazing legacy that Martin Luther King, Jr. has left us.

UPDATE: Powerline Blog has a great post on MLK, Jr.