After reading the Declaration of Independence, Lemuel Haynes pamphlet Liberty Further Extended, and Dr. Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail engage in the following discussion.
Lemuel Haynes on Natural Rights and Slavery (page 25 in our textbook)
Dr. King’s (1963) letter is one of the most important documents in the civil rights movement. It is also a statement of reproach to Christians who are lukewarm in their love for mankind and in their understanding of the American Creed. Indeed, all men (and women) are created equal and have natural rights that are endowed by God the creator, of which no man has the authority to deny.
From the the first days in Jamestown to present day men/women/institutions have in-fact denied people their moral right of life as well as their political right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They have done so “legally” based on the laws created by those in power. Dr. King articulates the difference between just laws and unjust laws. Hundreds of years after drafting the Declaration of Independence, Dr. King based his claim for full citizenship rights for African Americans based upon the idea of natural rights. He also makes his claim as a child of God and the Bible’s moral authority. He is essentially saying, read your Constitution, read your Bible and justify your laws and actions (or inaction).
From the perspective of a Christian, discuss where the two letters and and the Declaration of Independence are similar. In what ways are they different? What moral obligation, if any, does the current day Christian have in questioning the laws of our country? Can you make any present day connections?