Dr. King Criticizes Organized Religion, continued

Dr. King had plenty to say about religion’s failures—including a hint at why the young abandon it.  

Intolerance, corruption, dogma, and…
A group of Gen-Z youth speak of their reasons for choosing spirituality over religion. Gen-ZSpeaks/GenZ Magazine.

The judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

King posed this question: 

Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world.

Dr. Bernice A. King, CEO of the Martin Luther King Center, Jr. for Nonviolent Social Change, speaks at the 55th anniversary of her father’s death: “We must move beyond the quotable King to the livable King.” FOX 5 Atlanta

But he was thankful for those who did march with them and paid a price for it including going to jail.  

Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. . . . Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times.

Sometimes to be church you have to leave church or take on the acrimony of church leaders.  This “witness” can provide the “spiritual salt” that puts meaning into Gospel values.  King speaks of searching for an “inner spiritual church, the church within the church,” that will carry authentic hope into the world.

He admired the early church which, though

Fifty-five years after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., African American churches still struggle with their role in the movement he led. ABC 7 Chicago

...small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.”  But things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent — and often even vocal — sanction of things as they are.

King wept over the fear he saw in churches.  

In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church….Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise?…Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists….


Adapted from Matthew Fox, Christian Mystics: 365 Readings and Meditations, pp. 327f., 326.

See also Matthew Fox, Order of the Sacred Earth: An Intergenerational Vision of Love and Action

See also Matthew Fox and Adam Bucko, Occupy Spirituality: A Radical Vision for a New Generation

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner image: Taking a stand: BLACK LIVES MATTER banner over entrance to Greater New Hope Baptist Church, Washington DC, 18 September 2020 Photo by Elvert Barnes Photography. Wikimedia Commons.

Queries for Contemplation

Do we weep over the fear that churches often manifest?  Does King’s criticism of organized religion over 55 years ago help explain why so many young people are abandoning the churches in our time? 


Recommended Reading

Christian Mystics: 365 Readings & Meditations

As Matthew Fox notes, when an aging Albert Einstein was asked if he had any regrets, he replied, “I wish I had read more of the mystics earlier in my life.” The 365 writings in Christian Mystics represent a wide-ranging sampling of these readings for modern-day seekers of all faiths — or no faith. The visionaries quoted range from Julian of Norwich to Martin Luther King, Jr., from Thomas Merton to Dorothee Soelle and Thomas Berry.
“Our world is in crisis, and we need road maps that can ground us in wisdom, inspire us to action, and help us gather our talents in service of compassion and justice.  This revolutionary book does just that.  Matthew Fox takes some of the most profound spiritual teachings of the West and translates them into practical daily mediations.  Study and practice these teachings.  Take what’s in this book and teach it to the youth because the new generation cannot afford to suffer the spirit and ethical illiteracy of the past.” — Adam Bucko, spiritual activist and co-founder of the Reciprocity Foundation for Homeless Youth.

Order of the Sacred Earth: An Intergenerational Vision of Love and Action
By Matthew Fox, Skylar Wilson, and Jen Listug

In the midst of global fire, earthquake and flood – as species are going extinct every day and national and global economies totter – the planet doesn’t need another church or religion. What it needs is a new Order, grounded in the Wisdom traditions of both East and West, including science and indigenous. An Order of the Sacred Earth united in one sacred vow: “I promise to be the best lover and defender of the Earth that I can be.”
Co-authored by Matthew Fox, Skylar Wilson, and Jennifer Berit Listug, with a forward by David Korten, this collection of essays by 21 spiritual visionaries including Brian Swimme, Mirabai Starr, Theodore Richards, and Kristal Parks marks the founding of the diverse and inclusive Order of the Sacred Earth, a community now evolving around the world.
“The Order of the Sacred Earth not only calls us home to our true nature as Earth, but also offers us invaluable guidance and company on the way.”  ~~ Joanna Macy, environmental activist and author of Active Hope.

Occupy Spirituality: A Radical Vision for a New Generation

Authors Adam Bucko and Matthew Fox encourage us to use our talents in service of compassion and justice and to move beyond our broken systems–economic, political, educational, and religious–discovering a spirituality that not only helps us to get along, but also encourages us to reevaluate our traditions, transforming them and in the process building a more sacred and just world. Incorporating the words of young activist leaders culled from interviews and surveys, the book provides a framework that is deliberately interfaith and speaks to our profound yearning for a life with spiritual purpose and for a better world.
Occupy Spirituality is a powerful, inspiring, and vital call to embodied awareness and enlightened actions.”
~~ Julia Butterfly Hill, environmental activist and author of The Legacy of Luna: The Story of a Tree, a Woman, and the Struggle to Save the Redwoods


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12 thoughts on “Dr. King Criticizes Organized Religion, continued”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, Toady you begin with a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. which says: “The judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.” And when he speaks on the lack of response of organized religion he says: “Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world.” And finally he says: “In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church….Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise?…Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists….” And it is far worse in the Catholic Church, in that its structure doesn’t allow truth to emerge from the people of the church who make up the “body of Christ”–for it is only the Pope, bishops and councils that can decide truth not the “hoi polloi” or common people. Truth is of the scriptures and the magisterium, and even scripture is interpreted by the magisterium so no one has to think–they just have to assent to what they are told is the truth. Apparently the Spirit only fell on the apostles on Pentecost…

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    Self-servingness, sense of entitlement and fear of being alone have replaced love, sacrifice and community. How one’s own heart is engaged to move from one paradigm to the other, should be ‘the same heart’ the church should use on a wider scale. Lack of engagement can be viewed as a lack of inclusion as well. Did the father of the returning Prodigal son, stop him at the house gates to read the ‘house rules’ before entering or did he extend his arms wide open in love and acceptance? The church needs to follow the father’s example and do the same. — BB.

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    The abandoning of churches; is the beginning of the emergence of authentic spiritual wisdom. What’s being sacrificed, is authoritarian domination, which organized heirarchal/patriarchal religion has disgustingly progressed in for centuries. No longer tolerant of being defined within the confines of religion, many are rising into the heart and spirit of one’s true authentic origins; no longer accepting false or pretentious imitations. Many are seeking the actuality and reality of their true authentic soul sense of self and their interconnected, interdependent, and interreliant relationship with the Original Source and the existence of this spiritual essence and presence not only embodied within oneself, but also others and the all and the everything that creates the webb of life. This involves learning how to navigate diversity within unity; along with the painstaking inner work of the consequences of the religious illusion of seperation that the church has loyally defended, through the Augustinian ideal of original sin; and saying no to this. Everything that negates authentic spirituality and the birthing of the wisdom of our true Original Blessings, as all being “Oned With” the spiritual essence and presence of love, compassion and mercy; and the illusion that we are seperated from accessing and manifesting this from within our relationships with self, other, all of creation and the Original Source of this wisdom way, is no longer seen as tolerable or trustworthy.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, Your whole comment today is important, but I just wanted to emphasize the call you are making on those who have ears to hear: “The abandoning of churches; is the beginning of the emergence of authentic spiritual wisdom. What’s being sacrificed, is authoritarian domination, which organized hierarchal/patriarchal religion has disgustingly progressed in for centuries. No longer tolerant of being defined within the confines of religion, many are rising into the heart and spirit of one’s true authentic origins; no longer accepting false or pretentious imitations.” Isn’t that the truth !!!

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    I repeat the words I wrote last week from Lao Tzu, “What is looked for in the wrong place will not be found.” Jesus Christ is not on the cross but the church wants to keep him there. The cross is the Symbol of Resurrection. Jesus is alive and well, living an Eternal Life as indeed are we all, only we are unrealized. There is no death. The church needs to return the Spiritual Laws of Karma (“As you sow so must you reap”) and Reincarnation to its fundamental creed, otherwise it’s on a hiding to nothing heading down a cul-de-sac. A Dead End.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Paul, Today you write: “The church needs to return the Spiritual Laws of Karma (“As you sow so must you reap”) and Reincarnation to its fundamental creed, otherwise it’s on a hiding to nothing heading down a cul-de-sac. A Dead End.” I know what you are saying; I tend to lean towards reincarnation myself, but “the Spiritual Laws of Karma and Reincarnation were never a part of any Christian creed in the Early Church. More than this, science says, based on a wholistic view of human nature, that we are material; animated beings that can think. But even the thinking; which Descartes thought was non-physical, and therefore could be equated to the soul or spirit–turns out to be chemical reactions in the physical brain, and that when the brain is dead, so are all of its functions, and there is nothing more left of the body but dust. Remember, “Dust we are , and unto dust we shall return.”

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    Genuine Spirituality in our hearts opens us personally and socially to the Living~Loving~Wisdom~Truth~Peace~Justice~Healing~Transformation~Compassionate~
    Service~Loving Diverse Oneness… of our Divine Feminine~Masculine Spirit as Loving Essence~Creator~Sustainer Always Present Within and Among Us on our unique eternal soul journeys here on Sacred Mother Earth, and within our sacred multidimensional-multiverse evolving Cosmos with Divine Love….
    ????

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    It is tragic that so many churches have become part of the “system” and have lost all credibility, so it is not surprising that young people are not willing to join. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King saw and grieved over this trend. Instead of being leaders in working for justice for all, churches worship and fight for the status quo. As the video pointed out, he was not supported by all black churches and leaders in his time, and that is true today. Someone wrote that church should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable–too many churches act out the opposite: to preserve the comfortable and to avoid all active concern for the afflicted. Christianity started out as small groups of house churches, and perhaps it is time to return to that model. To dismantle the huge bureaucracies that so many have become will surely be vigorously and violently opposed, but it may be necessary.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Sue, Today you write : “Someone wrote that church should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable–too many churches act out the opposite: to preserve the comfortable and to avoid all active concern for the afflicted.” Well, that is certainly true, and people need to know that by being that way we are not “doing unto others as we would have them do unto us! Remember Jesus in Matthew 25 where he says, “For I was hungry, and you fed me, I was thirsty, and you gave me drink, I was a stranger, and you took me in, naked and you clothed me, I was in prison, and you visited me.” And the punchline is that Jesus says that how we treat others IS how we would treat him! One other point, and that is, you mention returning to the early church’s practice of meeting in homes. While I was in seminary, the University Church was so big that we seminary students felt that we would never have an opportunity to do anything in that church, so we decided to have our own house church. So we would meet every week at one of the seminary students homes, where the adults sat in a circle, with all of the children in the middle, and the host would be the one to deliver the sermon or homily.

  7. Avatar

    It isn’t only young people leaving organized religion. I was a “Cradle Catholic” and brought my children up as such. As I grew older and was introduced to the Divine Feminine, I started to question why 50% of the human race was only good for being virgins (nuns) or breeding babies, preferably boy babies. I finally left the Church at 70. My son hasn’t seen the inside of a church for many years, and my daughter is not longer Catholic, though she does attend a non-denominational Christian church. Between misogynism and the pedophile crisis, there isn’t much left for me there. It seems Jesus wouldn’t find much common ground there either. My friend, an Episcopal Deacon, keeps trying to convert me, but I see some of the same problems there. I am happy exploring many paths and have not felt as close to the Divine for a long time.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Elaine, I h ear what you are saying. After being a minister for over 35 years, I’m really burnt out on church. I go about once a month, when my wife volunteers in the kitchen. After studying at the University of Creation Spirituality, I started my own “Creation Spirituality Community” where we explore various, philosophies and religions, and spiritual paths. About 15 to 20 attend, and no one feels obligated to come, no one judges anyone else’s beliefs or practices, and there are no financial obligations. Its just people getting together to talk about the “Big Questions” and consider the different answers that have come from the many spiritual traditions out there. A good example of what our group aims for can be found in Matthew’s book, One River, Many Wells.

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