Extremism: From Dr. King and Beyond

Here are Dr. King’s thoughts on Extremism as excerpted from his Letter from a Birmingham Jail…  

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 those 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 extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be.

Will we be extremists for hate or for love?  Will we be extremists for preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified.  We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime – the crime of extremism.  Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment.  The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment.  Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.


This very blog spends a lot of time speaking about the ways of extremism… often implying that the ways of extremists are wrong.  But as Dr. King reminds us here, there are very different types of extremism at play in every complex situation.  Standing for what is right often means standing to the extreme of society.

Extremism is certainly at play in today’s society… protesters standing for extreme changes in the American justice and law enforcement system.  Parisians rallying for the preservation of liberty in the wake of heinous killings from “religious” terrorists.  Texas Workers on strike for higher wages because they cannot earn enough to support their families. Hopefully at some point, we will all be extremist.  But Dr. King’s words ring true today… which kind of extremists will we be, and which ones will win out in the end? This remains one of the essential and eternal questions that society is trying to answer.