“Governments … controlled by men are without exception anti-life and anti-Christ.”
Birmingham Revolution: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Epic Challenge to the Church
Author: Edward Gilbreath
Publisher: IVP Books
In the prologue to Birmingham Revolution, author Edward Gilbreath writes, “There are two race-related facts about our nation’s founding that we cannot get around. First, Native Americans, the original inhabitants of the territory that eventually would become the United States, were usurped from the land by a combination of force and political deceit” (12). This reminds me of something the late singer/songwriter Rich Mullins said in an interview, “I’m very hurt over the determination of the government to destroy life and its not simply over the abortion issue. Anyone who has any awareness at all of Wounded Knee, not only the first Wounded Knee but what happened there, what 20 years ago … You kinda go, there can be no doubt that governments that are controlled by men are without exception anti-life and anti-Christ.”
This startling observation also applies to the second race-related fact. “For the first eight-nine years of its official existence, the United States was a nation whose growth and prosperity was dependent on African and African American slave labor” (13). Sadly, in both cases, it’s not hard to see how the government has been on the wrong side of issues.
Readers like me who are white gain insight into the perspective of an African American author like Gilbreath. His research and judicious use of facts are excellent. He succeeds admirably in giving a succinct, readable account of pivotal events in Alabama and the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which formed the basis of the Civil Rights movement. If readers are unschooled in these issues or need a refresher course, this is a helpful place to start.
I suppose that it’s difficult for anyone to be completely free of bias, but I don’t detect an agenda. There is no anger or hatred in his voice. He tells the story with wisdom from above that is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere (James 3:17). This is helpful in that you could give this book to anyone, and if they are open to truth, they can find it.
The book highlights the importance of Letter from Birmingham Jail, where King writes, “If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity … and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club” (16). Alvin Sanders, and African American who is the executive director of reconciliation in the Evangelical Free Church of America, framed it this way, “In the Letter from Birmingham Jail he (King) put the African American struggle squarely as part of the process of authentic discipleship. He believed the fight for justice was an essential mark of the gospel” (16-17).
Even though this was published in 2013 it speaks to the civil unrest of our day. It was one of several digital books on racism that IVP made available for free in July of 2020.
My eye was on this title. I became familiar with the author through his former association with CT magazine and an encounter over a reflection that I wrote about Jimi Hendrix. Gilbreath volunteered to edit it for another publication. He took my feeble efforts to another level and for that his name should be added. You can find the article here.
I will never forget that kindness, and it was a wonderful surprise to find a fellow believer who could appreciate Hendrix.
It’s hard to believe that we as a people and nation can be so cruel and callous. The events described in this book actually happened. I wonder how King would react to what we see today. Gilbreath would be a good one to ask. Some of his response might come from these pages. This is an excellent resource to remind us of where our nation has been and how we might proceed in the future. Let’s continually come down on the side of life, the way Christ has shown. It was said of him, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory” (Matthew 12:21).