Office Hours: The Legacy of Martin Luther King

Office HoursAmericans are in the midst of a national discussion about race. It’s a difficult discussion, one that is not always conducted well either by politicians or preachers. Dr Martin Luther King is not only a central figure in this discussion but he remains one of the most important figures in modern American history. Given the national discussion we are having it is useful to go back to the sources and to get to know Dr King again. To help us do that Ryan Glomsrud and I sat down with the Rev Mika Edmondson, who is writing his PhD dissertation on Dr. King and currently serves Harvest OPC as a Church Plant intern.  Mika-EdmondsonMika was on campus to give some lectures to a course in modern theology and in this episode he introduces us to aspects of Dr King’s biography that have been lost. We know him as the leader of marches and boycotts and most famously as the man who gave the “Dream” speech on the Washington Mall in 1963. He was, however, raised in a theologically conservative context and, Mika argues, that context continued to inform his theology and life even as he studied Modernist theology. Here’s the episode.

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  1. Dr. Clark,
    Two of the questions you posed toward the end regarding King’s non-reformed thinking and how the reformed church can make inroads into the Black Church were good, important questions. I would like to offer my suggestions.

    How can we deal with King despite our theological differences? My approach with King and with everybody I read is to celebrate what we have in agreement. In addition, we need to realize that to think we have everything to teach and nothing to learn because of our orthodoxy is unjust.–here I am adapting a famous King quote.

    How can the Reformed Church make inroads into the Black church and Black community? Here the answer is tougher to hear. From my limited experience of reading and listening and this is regardless of the race of the Reformed author or speaker, the Reformed Church tends to take the side of those with wealth and power, of those who hold the whip more than those who receive the lashes of the whip. And part of this siding with wealth and power is due to our unbalanced emphasis on submitting to those in authority. We love to preach repentance to the individual but not to the system that holds all of the playing cards. It isn’t until we preach repentance to the system created and run by those with wealth and power and is made up of individuals that we will find ways to follow the good parts of what King taught and did.

    Finally, I would add this. Just as King the Theologian is not well known in America, some of King the Activist is not well known either. For King, racism, economic injustice, and militarism were his enemies and he saw them too well connected to separate. Remember that King was assassinated while supporting the Memphis garbage workers in their strike for fair pay. And when King spoke against economic injustice, he often spoke about his black and white brethren who lived in poverty.

    In addition, King came out strongly not just against the Vietnam War but against militarism in general. He called America “greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”

    King is often used by people to further their own causes and this is more often done by omitting what King had said than deliberately misrepresenting what he said.

  2. Fantastic discussion! I realize time was limited for the podcast, but I’m curious to hear more about reaching out to the black community with Reformed Christianity, in light of the retort I’ve often heard that we are associated with Southern Presbyterians like Dabney who defended slavery.

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