Martin Luther King Jr: 1929-1968
Fifty years after his assassination, Martin Luther King Jr continues to guide and inspire Baptists to work for justice and righteousness in our world.
That’s the view of many Baptists who have been reflecting on the legacy of the civil rights activist and Baptist pastor. Here is a selection of links to reflections, resources and events to help mark the 50th anniversary of King's death on 4 April.
Reflection: ‘A new standard for church-based social activism’
Martin Luther King set 'a new standard for church-based social activism', writes Wale Hudson Roberts, Baptist Union Justice Enabler, in The Baptist Times. Church mattered to King: his was a theology committed to the struggle to transform the world for good; he had a willingness to sacrifice his life in the quest for justice for the oppressed; and he brought ecumenism into the public square. He often reminded his church of its responsibilities to the international community.
Among the many issues that mattered to King, 'the coming kingdom', which he saw as a new social order, or a global ‘beloved community’, mattered most. Small wonder that in his last years he turned to issues of poverty and peace, setting 'a new standard for church-based social activism'.
Resource: ‘Seek the ways that make for justice, hope and healing’ – Luther King House reflections
Luther King House - a place and a community that bears his name - has produced a series of reflections from within its community. The document features Northern Baptist College co-principal Glen Marshall highlighting Luther King’s prayer at a Billy Graham rally, and the link between evangelism and transformation; while Helen Roberts, mission and discipleship leader at Altrincham Baptist Church, explores the connection between Luther King’s mountain top encounter with God and his actions.
It is hoped that such voices ‘will encourage us all to both remember with thanksgiving, and to journey onwards in renewed commitment to seek the ways that make for justice, hope and healing,’ writes Luther King House President and Baptist minister Graham Sparkes in introducing the reflections.
‘Martin Luther King’s fearless commitment to justice and righteousness in faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ, expressed in both his words and actions, continues to shine in our world,’
Event: Beyond the Dream? Tuesday 24 April
This one day conference at Highgate Baptist Church Centre in Birmingham brought together scholars and activists, fans and critics of Martin Luther King Jr.
For many people, MLK is known solely for his iconic ‘I Have A Dream’ speech, a great piece of oratory proclaimed on a hot summer's day on 28 August 1963. King’s vision for the prophetic, love-inspired-ethic of societal peace and harmony has divided his supporters in more recent times. In the minds of some, King’s vision for the ‘Beloved Community’ represents the fundamental ethics of Christian love and non-violent change. After all, who can seriously argue with the notion that we should all love one another?
For King, the means by which we bring about change was as important as the hoped for transformation for which many marched and prayed. ‘Loving one’s enemies’ and doing good for them is a Biblical mandate spoken by Christ himself. Yet, for others ‘self-defence is no offence’ and the fact that traditional models of atonement invoke the use of violence, is reason enough for Christians to engage in tactical forms of ‘defensive violence’ in order to bring about change.
Ultimately, this conference was about trying to provide a more holistic and comprehensive appraisal of the activism and ministry of MLK that was brutally ended on the 4th April 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. Is MLK more than just the ‘Dream’? What about the final years of his life when he embraced ‘Democratic Socialism’, argued against the ‘Military Industrial Complex’ and declared that ‘God Damn America’, a comment later reiterated by Revd Dr Jeremiah Wright Jr. Did MLK’s non-violent struggle actually bear fruit and, is it a relevant mode of social action in today’s context of increasing racism?
The conference has been organised by Bright Black Forum, a gathering organised by Kumar Rajagopalan to encourage Black and Minority Ethnic ministers, primarily Baptist, to undertake studies at masters and doctoral level that they may seek to serve in theological teaching roles.
Martin Luther King: radical Christian peacemaker, not secular hero November 2017 saw the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's visit to Newcastle University. Current university chaplain and lecturer Nick Megoran argues that all King stood for was rooted in his radical Christian faith that built on a Baptist tradition of non-violence. If we really want to honour King’s legacy, Christians in general and Baptists in particular ought to recommit to this tradition in the 21st. Read here
Beyond the Dream? Enough is enough: 50 years on from the death of Martin Luther King, Baptist minister Tony Cross has a new dream - and a challenge for churches.
Several recent Baptist resources reflect Martin Luther King's theological focus. They include:
Journeying to Justice - The first comprehensive appraisal of the journey towards equity and reconciliation among British and Jamaican Baptists
Lest we Forget - studies to equip Baptists to reflect on the 2007 Baptist Union Apology and explore ways to address the legacy of the transatlantic slave trade, ten years on.
Moving Stories - a Baptist resource aimed at helping individuals and groups to reflect theologically about the refugee and migration crisis
Pentecost People - a Baptist resource to help churches experience multicultural worship and prayer
And coming soon:
Wonderful Youth - a new resource for youth groups (aged 13-16) to use during Black History Month - October 2018
Martin Luther King portrait | Public Domain | Wikimedia Commons