Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr.

Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr.

Video, courtesy of TIME

In celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr., we’ve compiled several of the stories we’ve published over the years about his life and ministry.

Two-Minute Podcast Shorts on Martin Luther King, Jr.

In celebration of the late Dr. Melvin E. Banks, Sr., our founder, and Black History Month, we are featuring his podcast shorts that draw Biblical connections and insight into the life and leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr. Amid so much turmoil, take a few minutes and listen to these two-minute podcast shorts.

Podcast Shorts: How Do People of Faith Address Violence?

The constant drumbeat of negative news stories about violence, from the rioters who stormed the Capitol to the latest neighborhood or school shooting, is all so unnerving. Dr. Melvin E. Banks offers biblically based, two-minute podcast shorts that cover injustice, gang violence, drug dealers, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

MLK: Remembering the Dream

We’re honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with engaging articles, podcast shorts, video, and useful resources.

Pealing Bells to Mark 50 Years Since MLK’s Rousing Speech

By Larry Copeland c. 2013 USA Today ATLANTA (RNS) The King Center is urging communities around the world to participate in a bell-ringing ceremony next month to help commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. King Center...

Celebrating Dr. King with Service

Rev. Dr. M. William Howard Jr. and gospel artists Richard Smallwood and Tye Tribbett reflect on the influence of MLK on their own lives of service.

The Power of a Praying King

In his book ‘Never to Leave Us Alone,’ religion scholar Lewis V. Baldwin examines the centrality of prayer in the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr.

Faith and Politics at King Dedication

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial dedication ceremony was described as a mix of worship service and partisan political rally, but there’s scant mention of race, racism or God at the site. What’s going on?

King Memorial Controversy Continues

Maya Angelou says a paraphrase of Dr. King’s words makes him sound arrogant and a North Carolina journalist thinks Rev. Billy Graham deserves a statue too.

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Opens

The Martin Luther King Jr. memorial opens today at the National Mall in Washington D.C. in advance of a five-day celebration and Sunday’s dedication.

Stranded on MLK Blvd.

Our nation’s political divisions, economic struggles, and violent communities should remind us that symbolism without substance is a dead-end street.

MLK: A Life

  Remembering the life, work, and message of Martin Luther King Jr. -- preacher, peacemaker, prophet. UrbanFaith celebrates the Martin Luther King Jr. Day with this special photo gallery from Life.com. King, the champion of justice and civil rights, said this upon the...

The Day MLK Died

Life.com’s never-before-published photos chronicle the aftermath of Martin Luther King’s murder.

How a heritage of black preaching shaped MLK’s voice in calling for justice

How a heritage of black preaching shaped MLK’s voice in calling for justice

Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the Freedom March on Washington in 1963.
Bettmann/Contributor via Getty images

The name Martin Luther King Jr. is iconic in the United States. President Barack Obama mentioned King in both his Democratic National Convention nomination acceptance and victory speeches in 2008, when he said,

“[King] brought Americans from every corner of this land to stand together on a Mall in Washington, before Lincoln’s Memorial…to speak of his dream.”

Indeed, much of King’s legacy lives on in such arresting oral performances. They made him a global figure.

King’s preaching used the power of language to interpret the gospel in the context of black misery and Christian hope. He directed people to life-giving resources and spoke provocatively of a present and active divine interventionist who summons preachers to name reality in places where pain, oppression and neglect abound.
In other words, King used a prophetic voice in his preaching – the hopeful voice that begins in prayer and attends to human tragedy.

So what led to the rise of the black preacher and shaped King’s prophetic voice?

In my book, “The Journey and Promise of African American Preaching,” I discuss the historical formation of the black preacher. My work on African American prophetic preaching shows that King’s clarion calls for justice were offspring of earlier prophetic preaching that flowered as a consequence of the racism in the U.S.

From slavery to the Great Migration

First, let’s look at some of the social, cultural and political challenges that gave birth to the black religious leader, specifically those who assumed political roles with the community’s blessing and beyond the church proper.

In slave society, black preachers played an important role in the community: they acted as seers interpreting the significance of events; as pastors calling for unity and solidarity; and as messianic figures provoking the first stirrings of resentment against oppressors.

The religious revivalism or the Great Awakening of the 18th century brought to America a Bible-centered brand of Christianity – evangelicalism – that dominated the religious landscape by the early 19th century. Evangelicals emphasized a “personal relationship” with God through Jesus Christ.

This new movement made Christianity more accessible, livelier, without overtaxing educational demands. Africans converted to Christianity in large numbers during the revivals and most became Baptists and Methodists. With fewer educational restrictions placed on them, black preachers emerged in the period as preachers and teachers, despite their slave status.

Africans viewed the revivals as a way to reclaim some of the remnants of African culture in a strange new world. They incorporated and adopted religious symbols into a new cultural system with relative ease.

Rise of the black cleric-politician

Despite the development of black preachers and the significant social and religious advancements of blacks during this period of revival, Reconstruction – the process of rebuilding the South soon after the Civil War – posed numerous challenges for white slaveholders who resented the political advancement of newly freed Africans.

As independent black churches proliferated in Reconstruction America, black ministers preached to their own. Some became bivocational. It was not out of the norm to find pastors who led congregations on Sunday and held jobs as schoolteachers and administrators during the work week.

Others held important political positions. Altogether, 16 African Americans served in the U.S. Congress during Reconstruction. For example, South Carolina’s House of Representatives’ Richard Harvey Cain, who attended Wilberforce University, the first private black American university, served in the 43rd and 45th Congresses and as pastor of a series of African Methodist churches.

Others, such as former slave and Methodist minister and educator Hiram Rhoades Revels and Henry McNeal Turner, shared similar profiles. Revels was a preacher who became America’s first African American senator. Turner was appointed chaplain in the Union Army by President Abraham Lincoln.

To address the myriad problems and concerns of blacks in this era, black preachers discovered that congregations expected them not only to guide worship but also to be the community’s lead informant in the public square.

The cradle of King’s spiritual heritage

Many other events converged as well, impacting black life that would later influence King’s prophetic vision: President Woodrow Wilson declared entrance into World War I in 1917; as “boll weevils” ravaged crops in 1916 there was widespread agricultural depression; and then there was the rise of Jim Crow laws that were to legally enforce racial segregation until 1965.

Such tide-swelling events, in multiplier effect, ushered in the largest internal movement of people on American soil, the Great “Black” Migration. Between 1916 and 1918, an average of 500 Southern migrants a day departed the South. More than 1.5 million relocated to Northern communities between 1916 and 1940.

Records of immigration and passenger arrivals during the Great Migration stored at the National Archives in Washington.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

A watershed, the Great Migration brought about contrasting expectations concerning the mission and identity of the African American church. The infrastructure of Northern black churches were unprepared to deal with the migration’s distressing effects. Its suddenness and size overwhelmed preexisting operations.

The immense suffering brought on by the Great Migration and the racial hatred they had escaped drove many clergy to reflect more deeply on the meaning of freedom and oppression. Black preachers refused to believe that the Christian gospel and discrimination were compatible.

However, black preachers seldom modified their preaching strategies. Rather than establishing centers for black self-improvement focused on job training, home economics classes and libraries, nearly all Southern preachers who came North continued to offer priestly sermons. These sermons exalted the virtues of humility, good will and patience, as they had in the South.

Setting the prophetic tradition

Three clergy outliers – one a woman – initiated change. These three pastors were particularly inventive in the way they approached their preaching task.

Baptist pastor Adam C. Powell Sr., the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (AMEZ) pastor Florence S. Randolph and the African Methodist Episcopal bishop Reverdy C. Ransom spoke to human tragedy, both in and out of the black church. They brought a distinctive form of prophetic preaching that united spiritual transformation with social reform and confronted black dehumanization.

Bishop Ransom’s discontentment arose while preaching to Chicago’s “silk-stocking church” Bethel A.M.E. – the elite church – which had no desire to welcome the poor and jobless masses that came to the North. He left and began the Institutional Church and Social Settlement, which combined worship and social services.

Randolph and Powell synthesized their roles as preachers and social reformers. Randolph brought into her prophetic vision her tasks as preacher, missionary, organizer, suffragist and pastor. Powell became pastor at the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. In that role, he led the congregation to establish a community house and nursing home to meet the political, religious and social needs of blacks.

A March 9, 1965 file photo of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Alabama. King learned from these progressive black preachers who came before him.
AP Photo, File

Shaping of King’s vision

The preaching tradition that these early clergy fashioned would have profound impact on King’s moral and ethical vision. They linked the vision of Jesus Christ as stated in the Bible of bringing good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind and proclaiming liberty to the captives, with the Hebrew prophet’s mandate of speaking truth to power.

Similar to how they responded to the complex challenges brought on by the Great Migration of the early 20th century, King brought prophetic interpretation to brutal racism, Jim Crow segregation and poverty in the 1950s and ‘60s.

Indeed, King’s prophetic vision ultimately invited his martyrdom. But through the prophetic preaching tradition already well established by his time, King brought people of every tribe, class and creed closer toward forming “God’s beloved community” – an anchor of love and hope for humankind.

This is an updated version of a piece first published on Jan. 15, 2017.

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Editor’s note: This piece has been corrected to state that President Woodrow Wilson declared entrance into World War I in 1917.The Conversation

Kenyatta R. Gilbert, Professor of Homiletics, Howard University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Hartford International University expands Black ministries with Howard Thurman Center

Hartford International University expands Black ministries with Howard Thurman Center

Howard Thurman was a theologian and mystic who taught at both Howard University and Boston University. Photo courtesy of Emory University

‘(RNS) — Hartford International University for Religion and Peace has launched its new Howard Thurman Center for Justice and Transformational Ministry, an expansion of its longtime Black Ministries Program, named for the 20th-century theologian and mystic.

Joel N. Lohr, president of the university that previously was known as Hartford Seminary, said the center fits into the school’s strategic plan that focuses on peace building.

“It was my hope that this would be a moment to grow, to envision a center that would do more to support students, justice and ministry,” he said at a Tuesday (Jan. 11) webinar that officially launched the center and was attended by alumni, as well as Thurman’s grandchildren.

The center, which is a $2 million project, is supported by a $1 million grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc. The grant will support a resource center, pay for a Black church scholar and assure that students will not be excluded if they cannot afford the coursework.

The HTC will be led by Bishop Benjamin Watts, who will also continue to lead the Black Ministries Program founded in 1982 by the late Christian Methodist Episcopal Senior Bishop Thomas Hoyt.

“The center’s North Star will be Thurman’s insistence on social justice and responsibility within a spiritual framework,” said Watts in an introductory video during the launch event.

In live comments, Watts spoke of plans to move beyond the center’s regional focus in its two-year certificate course and to become a national model of theological training for pastors and lay people. He said the center also wants to expand the training to include health, wellness and trauma education.

“Those of us of faith have to find ways to continually engage with other persons, and particularly our youth who seem to be falling away from our worship centers,” he said.

During a live interview, Watts asked the Rev. Walter Fluker, editor of “The Papers of Howard Washington Thurman,” to describe the center’s namesake, who died in 1981.

“Thurman, like great mystics — the Dalai Lama, Bishop Tutu — if you meet them, they’re always laughing, because they understand the deep, tragic sense of life and it’s only because of their deep sense of the tragic that they’re able to look at the world and laugh at the world,” said Fluker, a professor at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. ”To meet Howard Thurman is to meet not a detached mystic unconcerned about the affairs of the world, but a very earthly human being.”

The launch event also featured video comments from the Rev. Andrew Young, a longtime civil rights activist who worked with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and is an alumnus of the Connecticut university, and an interview with former Spelman College President Beverly Daniel Tatum, who earned a master’s in religious studies from the school.

READ THIS STORY AT RELIGIONNEWS.COM

Rev. Al Sharpton calls for justice in police killing of Valentina Orellana Peralta

Rev. Al Sharpton calls for justice in police killing of Valentina Orellana Peralta

LOS ANGELES (RNS) — The Rev. Al Sharpton, speaking at the funeral of the 14-year-old fatally shot by a Los Angeles Police Department officer, recalled coming to Los Angeles 30 years ago to protest the beating of Rodney King by police.

“We keep seeing LAPD get it wrong. And here we are again. How long will it take for you to get it right?” Sharpton asked.

Valentina Orellana Peralta was with her mother, Soledad Peralta, on Dec. 23 in the dressing room of a Burlington clothing store in the San Fernando Valley’s North Hollywood neighborhood when, according to news reports, LAPD officer William Dorsey Jones Jr. fired at a 24-year-old man identified as Daniel Elena Lopez, who had been assaulting a woman in the store. The officer’s shots killed Lopez, and Valentina was also killed when one of the bullets went through a wall.

Both the girl and her mother had come to the United States from Chile.

Sharpton, on Monday (Jan. 10), eulogized Orellana Peralta, who was displayed in a pink dress inside a flower-draped casket during her funeral at City of Refuge, United Church of Christ in Gardena, near Los Angeles.

Today I’m eulogizing 14-year-old #ValentinaOrellanaPeralta who was killed by a LAPD stray bullet as she shopped for a Christmas dress. I’m praying for her parents and loved ones and we will seek justice in her name
📹 @rachelnoerd pic.twitter.com/NPyYj3lDhu

— Reverend Al Sharpton (@TheRevAl) January 10, 2022

“There is nothing normal about shooting so recklessly that a young teenage girl looking to live the American dream, that was shopping with her dear mother Soledad, possibly getting a Christmas dress, ends up being dressed for her funeral,” Sharpton said. “This could have been my daughter. This could have been your daughter.”

The shooting made international news when President Joe Biden called Chilean President-elect Gabriel Boric to congratulate him on winning his country’s election and during that conversation, “offered his deep condolences to the people of Chile for the tragic death” of Orellana Peralta.

Orellana Peralta was remembered as a happy teen who excelled in school, who was an advocate for animals and who yearned to become a U.S. citizen. Her father said she had dreams of becoming an engineer to build robots.

Sharpton, during the eulogy, said it was important to make it clear that “we don’t just fight for our own because we all are our own,” Sharpton said.

“Whether you are from South Central, Harlem, or Chile, right is right … If we call for justice for some, we must call (for) it for all, and I wanted to come 3,000 miles to say, ‘Justice for (Valentina)!’” Sharpton proclaimed.

Added Sharpton: “There are those … around America that talk about refugees coming to America, some from Chile, some from Central and South America, some from Mexico, and they ask me why I stand and fight for them to have rights. I fight for them to have rights because I worship a refugee from Bethlehem.”

“Jesus was a refugee, and you cannot despise refugees and then stand up and say you are a believer in Christ,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

At Milwaukee church, refugees find welcome from a less suspicious time

At Milwaukee church, refugees find welcome from a less suspicious time

MILWAUKEE (RNS) — Asher Imtiaz is the kind of person who always seems to be wandering into a great story.

Like the time in 2017, when the Pakistani American computer scientist and documentary photographer walked into a Target in Nebraska and ended up being invited to a wedding thrown by Yazidi refugees from the Middle East.

Imtiaz had gone to Nebraska to shoot pictures of life in small-town America in the age of Trump, far from the country’s urban centers. Among his portfolio from the time is another Yazidi family, dressed in patriotic garb and heading to a Fourth of July picnic.

“I went to see America and found these new Americans,” said Imtiaz at a coffee shop on the north side of Milwaukee last year.

Imtiaz fits right in at Eastbrook Church, a multi-ethnic congregation where he serves as a volunteer leader at an outreach ministry for international students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus nearby.

Eastbrook is a bit of an outlier these days, a place where refugees, immigrants and international students are welcome at a time when American evangelicals are increasingly suspicious of newcomers to the United States.

According to data from the Public Religion Research Institute’s Immigration Policies Survey, nearly 6-in-10 (59%) white Evangelical Protestants agreed with the statement “Immigrants are invading our country and replacing our cultural and ethnic background.” By contrast, only 31% of Americans overall agreed with that statement.

At an outdoor service at Eastbrook in August, Imtiaz wandered through the congregation greeting friends and exchanging hugs as a diverse worship team led the congregation through a mix of traditional and contemporary songs. The service started with the singing of the traditional Doxology, which begins, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow,” followed by songs like “You Are Good” and “Way Maker,” by Nigerian gospel singer Sinach.

That was followed by a reading of Psalm 23 in English, Spanish and Yoruba.

The church was founded in 1979 by members of Elmbrook Church, a megachurch about 20 miles to the west. Elmbrook’s then pastor was hoping to get church members more involved in the communities where they lived. Dubbed Eastbrook, it was led for three decades by former missionaries Marc and Nancy Erickson. For the past 11 years the pastor has been Matt Erickson (no relation).

The proximity of the university campus led to an intentional outreach to college students, especially those from overseas, which continues four decades later.

Every fall, church members give tours of Milwaukee to newly arrived international students, who are then invited to have dinner at the homes of church members. Many of those students come from Christian backgrounds and are seeking to connect with a church, said Imtiaz, who was raised as an Anglican in Pakistan, a country where only about 2% of the population is Christian.

Those students are also looking for friendship. Imtiaz pointed to a 2012 study of international students in the South and Northeast, which found that 40% of those students had no close friendships with Americans. Through the outreach at Eastbrook, their students often make friends in their first days in the country. Many of them end up spending holidays with church members and making longtime friendships.

“It’s basically providing a home away from home,” he said.

The church also operates an International Community Center on the south side of the city, where a number of recent refugees and other immigrants have settled. The center teaches English as a Second Language classes and provides support with issues like housing and education. About 30 people will end up dropping by the center most days, Dan Ryan, senior director of mission at the church, said in an interview in early January 2022.

Ryan said the church is helping resettle some recent refugees from Afghanistan. He understands that some of his fellow evangelicals around the country are resistant to the idea of resettling refugees. Since refugees are here in the States, he said, churches need to reach out in love.

“Yes, have your political ideas,” he said. “But don’t lose sight of the people involved.”

Ryan said that the church and the center are very open about the Christian motivations for their outreach efforts. But they also steer clear of proselytizing. Their main goal, Ryan said, is to show love and welcome to their new neighbors, a point echoed by Matt Erickson.

“It’s a ministry of care and concern and tangible ways of loving people welcoming people,” he said.

“These folks are treasured by God and valuable in his sight,” said Erickson, who spent several years on the staff of World Relief, a Christian organization that helps resettle refugees in the United States.

While he’s not shy about talking about faith, Imtiaz doesn’t see himself as a “Christian photographer.” He said that Christians in the United States sometimes see their neighbors as “projects” or prospective converts, rather than seeing them as people first. He takes a slower approach, trying to befriend people and see them as a neighbor who is valuable in God’s sight.

As a photographer, Imtiaz practices something he calls “God at ‘I’ level” — trying to connect with the people he photographs as human beings, long before taking their picture.

Like many churches in the United States, Eastbrook has felt the pressure of the country’s political polarization inside the church. Erickson said that Eastbrook has always tried to bring together people from different backgrounds, as task made more difficult by the broader conflicts in American public life over race, politics and increasingly, COVID-19.

He often turns to a verse from the New Testament Book of Galatians, in which the apostle Paul urges his readers to “bear one another’s burdens.”

“The last couple of years have given us lots of opportunities to live that out,” he said. “Sometimes we are doing it well and sometimes we are not. Part of being a body is that we have to learn to talk with each other, and we have to learn how to understand each other.”

During his sermon at the outdoor service in August, Erickson urged church members to ground their lives in the Bible and its message of love, rather than on the noise of the outside world. Without that solid foundation, he said, their lives won’t reflect the kind of love God wants them to share.

“Brothers and sisters, I just want to ask us today, are we giving more time to the news, are we giving more time to social media than we are to the Word of God and letting it sink into our lives?” he said. “I’m not trying to be legalistic. I’m just sick of us being brainwashed and want us to stand in the kingdom.”.

Among the people at Eastbrook that Sunday were Mahitha Voola and Manna Konduri, both originally from India, who came to Eastbrook through the church’s outreach to international students and ended up staying after graduation.

From the beginning, people at the church made them feel at home.

“They say, ‘Oh, taste and see the Lord is good,’” Voola said, quoting a verse from the Psalms. “I’ve tasted that love of God through these people and through the church. I feel very blessed to be part of it.”

The two said they hope to pass on the welcome they have received.

“Today we are the recipients of this love,” Konduri said. “Tomorrow, maybe we will be the ones to show that to someone else.”

Eastbrook’s ethic of welcome, Imtiaz said, has been as much a boon for him as it is for the newcomers.

He’s particularly interested in documenting the story of immigrants and refugees, whom he likes to refer to as “new Americans.” For several years he lived in an apartment complex where newly resettled refugees were living so that he could get to know them. He ended up photographing a number of neighbors after building friendships. When he got COVID-19 — a mild case — one of his former neighbors, a woman from Iraq, would send him soup.

Imtiaz hopes that his photographs and work at the church will inspire people to get to know their neighbors, no matter where they come from.

“If I can go to Nebraska and go to Target and meet 400 Yazidis, anybody else can,” he said.