The Fiery Furnace, Civil Disobedience and the Civil Rights Movement: A Biblical Exegesis on Daniel 3 and Letter from Birmingham Jail

21 Pages Posted: 20 Jun 2018

See all articles by Jonathan C. Augustine

Jonathan C. Augustine

Southern University Law Center; Duke University Divinity School

Date Written: June 4, 2018

Abstract

This essay was written in observance of the 50th anniversary of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s untimely assassination in April 1968. It highlights some of King’s most important work during the American Civil Rights Movement in terms of its contemporary influence. As a focal thesis, this essay argues that King’s famed Letter From Birmingham Jail — written during his April 1963 incarceration in Birmingham, Alabama, for deliberately refusing to follow what he morally deemed to be an “unjust law” — was predicated on the biblical foundation of civil disobedience exemplified in the famed story of Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego, the three Hebrew boys who refused to obey King Nebuchadnezzar’s order to bow down to a deity made of gold. This essay argues that the Hebrew boys’ faith-based willingness to suffer the potentially fatal consequence for their civil disobedience instead of complying with immoral governmental dictates exemplifies the Judeo-Christian suffering servant theology that influenced King and permeated the Civil Rights Movement. King’s work was fueled by a suffering servant theology that regards suffering as redemptive provided it is for a moral cause. In arguing the Hebrews’ civil disobedience set a foundation for King’s leadership in the Movement, this essay pays tribute to King’s legacy by also connecting his example of selfless sacrifice in the form of civil disobedience in Birmingham to recent contemporary social movements, like Black Lives Matter, a successor to the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, that also seeks egalitarianism and inclusion.

Keywords: Civil Disobedience, Law & Religion, Martin Luther King, Daniel 3, Civil Rights Movement

Suggested Citation

Augustine, Jay, The Fiery Furnace, Civil Disobedience and the Civil Rights Movement: A Biblical Exegesis on Daniel 3 and Letter from Birmingham Jail (June 4, 2018). Richmond Public Interest Law Review, Vol. 21, No. 3, 2018. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3190553

Jay Augustine (Contact Author)

Southern University Law Center ( email )

2 Roosevelt Steptoe Drive
Baton Rouge, LA 70813

HOME PAGE: http://www.sulc.edu

Duke University Divinity School ( email )

Durham, NC 27708
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.divinity.duke.edu

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