In a number of his speeches throughout the mid 60s, Martin Luther King, Jr. included the following meditation on maladjustment in society:
“Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any other word in psychology. It is the word maladjusted. And certainly we hear this word a great deal. And I’m sure all of us want to live the well-adjusted life in order to avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities. But I must honestly say to you, as I’ve said before, there are some things in our nation and in our world of which I’m proud to be maladjusted, which I call upon all men of goodwill to be maladjusted until the good society is realized.
I must honestly say to you that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to adjust myself to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few and leave men by the thousands and millions smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society. I must honestly say to you that I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism and the self-defeating effects of physical violence. For in a day when Sputniks and Geminis are dashing through outer space, and the guided ballistic missiles are causing highways of death through the stratosphere, no nation can ultimately win a war. It is no longer a choice between violence and non-violence. It is either non-violence or non-existence. And the alternative to disarmament, the alternative to a greater suspension of nuclear tests, the alternative to a negotiated settlement of the crisis in Vietnam, the alternative to strengthening the United Nations and bringing all of the nations of the world into the United Nations, and thereby disarming the whole world may well be a civilization plunged into the abyss of annihilation. And our earthly habitat will be transformed into an inferno that even the mind of Dante could not imagine.
And so I say that maybe our world is in dire need of a new organization, the International Association for the Advancement for Creative Maladjustment. Men and women who would be as maladjusted as the prophet Amos who in the midst of the injustices of his day could cry out in words that echo across the centuries, ‘Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.’ As maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln who had the vision to see that this nation could not survive half-slave and half-free. As maladjusted as Thomas Jefferson when the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery could scratch across the pages of history words lifted to cosmic proportions, ‘We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.’ As maladjusted as Jesus Christ who could look into the eyes of men and women around Galilean hills and say, ‘He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword,’ and, ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you. Pray for them that spitefully use you.’ And through such maladjustment we would be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man and to the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.”
This struck me as one way of expressing how Christians can articulate our difference from the world. We are those called by God and filled with the Holy Spirit to remain maladjusted to the ways of the world that are antithetical to God’s way. We are to be maladjusted to certain things in this world because we are to be well adjusted to the ways of God’s kingdom! Every church, as an outpost of God’s kingdom in the present age ought to be an Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment. In other words, we ought to be analyzing what society says is normal and comparing it to the upside down normality of the kingdom of God. And when we find the multiplicity of values and behaviors that do not match, we make a conscious decision to find creative ways to remain maladjusted in those areas. Then we teach that maladjustment to our church members and children so that the contrast between the kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of God remains as stark as it should be.
However, King thought that doing so would enable the society to “emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.” Despite the power of his rhetoric and the hope conveyed in that sentence, true freedom and justice will only come about with the return of Christ and the consummation of the kingdom. Until then, we are to be communities of creative maladjustment pointing toward that coming reality.
Below is a video clip of the speech. There is no one I like to hear preach more than MLKJ!