Neutrality Can Be the Greatest Hindrance to Doing Justice

Timothy Isaiah Cho
3 min readMar 2, 2023

The following is from our church’s Racial Justice Reflections that are published monthly in our worship folder.

In his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King, Jr. makes a surprising remark that the greatest barrier to the work of racial equity is not those who were outright opposed to it (such as the Ku Klux Klan or the White Citizen’s Council). Rather, King confesses, the greatest stumbling block is “the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice… who paternalistically believes he can set the timeline for another man’s freedom…”

In a day and age when everyone is talking about “polarization,” it is tempting to think that being in the middle of the poles is the safest — and perhaps most godly — option. We are afraid to be labeled as “too extreme” or “too radical,” especially when it comes to conversations about race, and so we often choose to take what we consider to be the middle route. We do our best to not choose sides, seeking to always be the neutral party, the voice of objectivity (or so we think of ourselves).

King’s observations about the “white moderate” is picking up a theme in the Bible that we should all be familiar with: in this broken world, sin and evil flow with the current of “the way things are.” Righteousness and mercy require swimming against that current or else we will simply go with the flow.

In fact, the requirements of following Jesus often entail choosing a side to stand on and to take proactive steps in the opposite direction of “the way things are.” To follow Jesus in the realm of racial justice may even require us to be seen as “extreme” and “radical.” Again, King observes: “Was not Jesus an extremist for love: ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them 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.’… So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?”

Here are some questions to ask yourself over the course of this month: Do I seek to stay in the “middle ground” on racial issues? If so, why? Is it due to a lack of knowledge or other causes? Am I using “neutrality” as a way of justifying my indifference and/or inaction? Am I using “neutrality” as a way to passively support “the way things are?