By / Jan 15

Many have endeavored to undertake an analysis of various aspects of the theology of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Although, much has been written on Dr. King’s moral philosophy and his doctrines of justice, surprisingly very little has been said about his robust theology of work and labor.

Growing up in an African-American Christian home, I was privileged to learn about the deep connection between the Civil Rights Movement and the predominantly black church. I was reminded faithfully by my parents that he wasn’t just “Dr. King,” he was “Rev. Dr. King.” These stories shaped a narrative in my mind that led me to give almost sole credit to the church for birthing, nurturing, and sustaining Dr. King’s civil rights ministry.

However, thanks in large part to Professor Michael Honey from the University of Washington-Tacoma, I have been forced to revisit some of my assumptions and to develop a more nuanced understanding of Dr. King and the movement he led.

All laborers have dignity

In the book All Labor Has Dignity, Honey painstakingly gathered a vast number of King’s speeches and writings on the subject of work and labor. He celebrated the dignity of all laborers, from the meat packers of the old UPWA (United Packinghouse Workers of America) to the Southern sanitation workers whose struggle and strike led him to Memphis in 1968—and ultimately led to his assassination.

Labor union members across the country were some of King’s most passionate partners and consistently comprised his audiences. He saw their work as vital for the flourishing of the nation and wanted the world to see their value and affirm the humanity of all laborers, not just those with the “big” jobs or white-collar positions.

Reading Honey’s comprehensive and masterful work has led me to two conclusions. The first is that the Civil Rights Movement was as much a product of King’s theology of work as it was of his relationship to the local church. Although, the church rightfully receives much of the credit for birthing and nurturing the Civil Rights Movement, an honest assessment must lead to an equal acknowledgement of the significant contribution of America’s Labor movement.

Secondly, King held strongly to the conviction that a proper understanding of God’s purpose in work and labor is central to a Christian vision of the human person, or what is classically called anthropology.     

Today’s need for a theology of work

King believed that the church in America was desperately longing for a strong, clear, and redemptive theology of work. Today, the hunger for a gospel-centered understanding of labor is just as real. Millennials, in particular, are searching for a purpose in their labor beyond a paycheck. Cynicism still exists among those who do physical, low-wage work as their primary occupation because of the sense of being devalued by society.

The dignity of work seems to be threatened consistently by corporate corruption, municipal bankruptcies, a culture of hyper-materialism, and the ever-looming danger of unchecked technology and automation. Christ-followers have not been exempt from the effects of these cultural forces. And pastors have struggled to provide a full-bodied response to the economic complexities that shape our vision of work.

Those of us who lead congregations should be aware of the enormous Sunday to Monday gulf that exist in the minds of our members. Far too many lack any significant vision for the connection of their work to their worship. This reality threatens the relevance of the church in the hearts of those who need biblical wisdom for life beyond Sunday morning. If Christ is Lord of all, then surely he has something essential and eternal to say about our work and how our labor can bring him glory.  The church’s ability to maintain a cohesive and comprehensive Christian worldview is in serious jeopardy when we neglect such an important area as a theology of work.

If Christ is Lord of all, then surely he has something essential and eternal to say about our work and how our labor can bring him glory.

Five pillars for a Christian view of labor

It is time for us to reconsider the rich theology of work presented to us by King. There are five enduring pillars upon which his understanding of a Christian view of labor stood:

  1. Every human being has intrinsic value and should be treated as such.
  2. All labor has dignity, from white-collar jobs to low-wage labor.
  3. The purpose of work is to serve humanity and to fulfill the second Great Commandment of loving our neighbor.  
  4. The key to a flourishing economy is the celebration and humane treatment of every laborer and the work they produce.
  5. To honor the worker is to honor God, and to dishonor the worker is to dishonor God and to provoke his wrath in judgement toward our nation.

King’s doctrine of labor has the power to produce a redemptive economy. His theology of work, if embraced, can restore meaning to even the most menial job, and at the same time, ground the work of the most powerful CEO in a broader Kingdom-context than simply being motivated by greater corporate profits. King espoused the wisdom of a “triple bottom line” economy before the concept was coined or popularized. He knew that, ultimately, a company would maximize it’s value by remaining committed to social, environmental, and financial profitability.

This only happens when we realize the biblical virtue that all labor has dignity. King would not rest until the lowliest worker’s humanity was affirmed and they had obtained a glorious vision of the value of their labor in the eyes of God. In many ways, King’s theology of work can be summarized in his most poetic statement about a Christian view of labor:

“If a man is called to be a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well.”

May we all encourage one another to work and to think about our work—whatever the task—in such a way.

Editor’s note: Racial unity is a gospel issue and all the more urgent 50 years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s death. Join the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and The Gospel Coalition at a special event, “MLK50: Gospel Reflections from the Mountaintop,” taking place April 4, 2018, in Memphis, Tenn. Key speakers include Russell Moore, Benjamin Watson, John Piper, Jackie Hill-Perry, Matt Chandler, Eric Mason and many others. Learn more here.

By / Apr 5

A racial unity conference on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. has been announced by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and The Gospel Coalition.

The event — "MLK50: Gospel Reflections From the Mountaintop" — will be held April 4, 2018, in Memphis, half a century to the date of King's slaying in the city. Announced Tuesday night (April 4) at TGC's National Conference, the event will focus on the status and pursuit of racial unity in the American church and culture.

The diverse lineup of speakers includes:

  • Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC)
  • H.B. Charles, pastor-teacher of Shiloh Church in Jacksonville and Orange Park, Fla.
  • John Piper, founder and teacher of Desiring God
  • Benjamin Watson, tight end for the Baltimore Ravens of the National Football League
  • Don Carson, TGC co-founder and research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS)
  • Crawford Loritts, senior pastor of Fellowship Bible Church in Roswell, Ga.
  • Matt Chandler, lead teaching pastor of The Village Church in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and president of the Acts 29 Network
  • Jackie Hill Perry, poet, rapper and speaker
  • Eric Mason, lead pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia

"The legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. should remind us of what can happen when one speaks to the conscience of the culture and to the conscience of the church," Moore said in a news release announcing the event. "Fifty years after Dr. King's assassination, it is shameful that the church often lags behind the culture around us when it comes to issues of racial justice, unity and reconciliation. We should be leading the way."

Moore said, "The gospel that reconciles the sons of slaveholders with the sons of slaves … is a gospel that reclaims the dignity of humanity and the lordship of God. It is this gospel that Dr. King appealed to, and it is this gospel that belongs to the church as much right now as it ever has. My eager prayer for this event is that it will bring a word of gospel hope, repentance and unity to many brothers and sisters in Christ."

In an interview with Baptist Press, Loritts recalled the devastation and uncertainty he felt as an 18-year-old African American when King was assassinated. Having a Gospel-focused conference on the 50th anniversary is "hugely significant," he said.

"It's happening at a very strategic time in our country, where issues of race and division and the need for unity are front and center again," Loritts said. "I think that in the providence of God this celebration, this looking back and commemoration of this extraordinary life that God used could be a step toward healing, a step toward revisiting those issues, taking a look at where we are today, how far we have come, the need that we have to go even further."

Loritts hopes evangelicals "will pray that God will use this event to bring healing and wholeness, also an environment in which the Gospel can be heard clearly with great integrity."

"[M]y greatest hope is that the church of Jesus Christ will begin modeling the desired destination at which the culture needs to arrive," he said, "and we have a lot of work to do."

Also convening the conference with the ERLC and TGC is an advisory board of Christian leaders, including Steve Gaines, Southern Baptist Convention president and senior pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis; Byron Day, president of the National African American Fellowship of the SBC; Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Jemar Tisby, co-founder and president of the Reformed African American Network; David Dockery, TEDS president; Justin Giboney, co-founder of The AND Campaign; Ray Ortlund, lead pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville; Dhati Lewis, lead pastor of Blueprint Church in Atlanta; Carl and Karen Ellis, co-founders of The Makazi Institute; Felix Cabrera, senior pastor of Iglesia Bautista Central in Oklahoma City; Kevin Smith, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware; and A.B. Vines, senior pastor of New Seasons Church in San Diego County, Calif.

King, only 39 at the time of his death, led the civil rights movement from his time as pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., in the mid-1950s until his assassination in 1968. He led the movement to practice nonviolence in its pursuit of change, helping produce the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In Memphis to advocate for sanitation workers on strike, King gave what became known as his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech the night before he was killed. 

"MLK50" will be held from 1 to 9 p.m. CT next April 4 at the Memphis Convention Center.

Registration and other information on the event is available at

Originally published by Baptist Press.

By / Apr 4

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention will co-host a special event with The Gospel Coalition on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., called “MLK50: Gospel Reflections from the Mountaintop,” April 4, 2018, in Memphis, Tenn.

This one-day event will provide an opportunity for Christians to reflect on the state of racial unity in the church and in the culture.

Russell Moore, president of the ERLC, commented on the importance of the event.

"The legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., should remind us of what can happen when one speaks to the conscience of the culture and to the conscience of the church. Fifty years after Dr. King's assassination, it is shameful that the church often lags behind the culture around us when it comes to issues of racial justice, unity and reconciliation. We should be leading the way.

"The gospel that reconciles the sons of slaveholders with the sons of slaves is the same gospel that reconciled the sons of Amalek with the sons of Abraham. It is a gospel that reclaims the dignity of humanity and the lordship of God. It is this gospel that Dr. King appealed to, and it is this gospel that belongs to the church as much right now as it ever has. My eager prayer for this event is that it will bring a word of gospel hope, repentance and unity to many brothers and sisters in Christ."

The event will feature key Christian leaders, including:

  • Russell Moore, president, ERLC
  • Benjamin Watson, NFL football player, Baltimore Ravens
  • John Piper, founder, Desiring God
  • Jackie Hill-Perry, writer, poet and artist with Humble Beast Records
  • Don Carson, co-founder and president, The Gospel Coalition; research professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
  • Matt Chandler, lead pastor, The Village Church; president, Acts 29 Network
  • H.B. Charles, pastor, Shiloh Church
  • Afshin Ziafat, lead pastor, Providence Church

The full list of speakers can be found here.

Also serving as co-conveners of the event is an advisory board, made up of key Christian leaders around the country, including:

  • Byron Day, president, National African American Fellowship SBC
  • Danny Akin, president, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
  • Jemar Tisby, president & co-founder, Reformed African American Network
  • Steve Gaines, president, Southern Baptist Convention; senior pastor, Bellevue Baptist Church
  • Justin Giboney, co-founder, The AND Campaign
  • David Dockery, president, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
  • Dhati Lewis, pastor, Blueprint Church
  • Dean Inserra, pastor, City Church Tallahassee
  • David Fleming, senior pastor, Champion Forest Baptist Church
  • Karen Ellis, president, Makaki Institute
  • Felix Cabrera, pastor, Iglesia Bautista Central
  • Kevin Smith, executive director, Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware
  • A. B. Vines, senior pastor, New Seasons Church

A full list of advisory board members is available here.

Registration is now open and complete event details can be found online.

By / Apr 4

Today marks the 49th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Here are five facts you should know about the killing of the civil rights leader in Memphis, Tennessee.

1. The killing of King in 1968 was the second attempt on his life. A decade before he was assassinated, King was nearly stabbed to death in Harlem when a mentally ill African-American woman who believed he was conspiring against her with communists, stabbed him in the chest with a letter opener. He underwent emergency surgery, and remained hospitalized for several weeks but made a full recovery. The doctor who performed the operation said, “Had Dr. King sneezed or coughed the weapon would have penetrated the aorta. . . . He was just a sneeze away from death”

2. On April 4, 1968, King was assassinated by the #277 man on the FBI's Most Wanted Fugitives list. In 1967, James Earl Ray escaped from the Missouri State Penitentiary by hiding in a truck transporting bread from the prison bakery. On the day of the assassination Ray took a room in boarding house that had a view to the motel. King and his entourage frequently stayed at the Lorraine Motel while staying in Memphis.

3. King was on the balcony of the motel when he was shot. He was hit by a .30-06 caliber rifle bullet that entered his right jaw, traveled through his neck, severing his spinal cord, and stopped in his shoulder blade. Civil rights leader Ralph Abernathy cradled King’s head while Marrell McCollough, an undercover Memphis police officer, used a towel to stop the flow of blood. King was taken to St. Joseph's where doctors attempted emergency surgery before pronouncing him dead at 7:05 p.m. He was 39 years old.

4. News of King’s assassination prompted major outbreaks of looting, arson, and violence, resulting in death and major property damage in more than 100 American cities. Altogether, 43 men and women were killed, approximately 3,500 were injured, and 27,000 were arrested. Not until over 58,000 National Guardsmen and army troops joined local state and police forces did the uprisings cease. As historian Peter B. Levy says, “during Holy Week 1968, the United States experienced its greatest wave of social unrest since the Civil War.”

5. After a two-month long, international manhunt, Ray was captured on June 8, 1968 at London's Heathrow Airport. On March 10, 1969, Ray pleaded guilty to King’s murder and was sentenced to 99 years in Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary. No testimony was heard in his trial. Ray later recanted his confession and claimed he was the victim of a conspiracy. Members of King’s family, including his son Dexter, publicly met with Ray in 1977 and began arguing for a reopening of his case. (The government investigations concluded Ray was the lone assassin). Later that same year Ray became the #351 on the FBI's Most Wanted Fugitives list after he and six other convicts escaped from the prison. He was recaptured three days later and given another year in prison, bringing his sentence to 100 years.

Racial unity is a gospel issue and all the more urgent 50 years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s death. Join the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and The Gospel Coalition at a special event, “MLK50: Gospel Reflections from the Mountaintop,” taking place April 4, 2018, in Memphis, Tenn. Key speakers include Russell Moore, Benjamin Watson, John Piper, Jackie Hill Perry, Matt Chandler, Eric Mason and many others. Learn more here

By / Apr 4

It was a cool spring evening in Memphis, Tenn. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood outside on the second floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel speaking with his aids about upcoming events. His music director, Ben Branch, would later share that they were discussing the musical programming for a future event. Twenty-four hours earlier, King gave a moving speech as he prepared the audience for another march. We now know his final, fervent words to the crowded hall at Mason Temple Church were prophetic:

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

And so I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!

The next day, on that second floor balcony, Dr. King would speak his last words—ever. He was right; he would not get to the Promised Land with those he was speaking to that night. With a sound that was described as a firecracker exploding, a bullet was shot that pierced King’s chin and then his spine. One hour after receiving that wound, he was pronounced dead on April 4, 1968, around 7:00 p.m.

Dr. King’s assassination shocked the Civil Rights community, the nation and the world. King had led the non-violent Civil Rights Movement since the mid-1950s, but his physical activity and presence ended at the young age of 39. Though he is gone, his ministry and influence continues to live and move among us.

When Dr. King died, I was not even a thought in my mother and father’s minds and wouldn’t be born for another decade. But many today still remember what it was like to learn of his death. It shouldn’t surprise us that for some—like many of the responses to world events today—there was little to no response at all. It didn’t affect their lives or their worldview at the time. And yet for others, the news was shocking and nearly devastating. We read the account in history books, but they lived those days and experienced the aftermath. The stories of others brings this day, the day Dr. King was assassinated, to life. Here are a few short reflections of those who were alive the day the news broke:

Dr. Carl Ellis, Jr. | Age 21 at the time of Dr. King's death and a student at Hampton University in Hampton, Va.

During that time, the Black Consciousness Movement was on the rise, and the influence of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement was declining. I was shocked and shaken by the violent reaction to his death. It seemed that all the progress we had made in race relations was up in the smoke of our burning cities. The future seemed bleak and filled with uncertainty. Even now, a day doesn’t go by for me without the thought of Dr. King.

Dr. George Marsden | Age 29 when Dr. King was shot and was teaching at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich.

I believe I learned of it from alarmed housemates. We were all admirers of Dr. King and were upset. We watched quite a few news broadcasts about it. It was a very demoralizing moment.

Yolande Watson | Age 25 when Dr. King was assassinated; lived in Orlando, Fla.

Being a beginning teacher, I was grading papers at home. It came up on the TV, and I couldn't believe what I was hearing! Of course that ended my grading papers. I was glued to the TV and I was completely devastated! I thought, “How could someone do that?” Unbelievable!

Tom Strode | Age 16 when Dr. King was assassinated, living in a Southeast Missouri town less than 150 miles from Memphis.

I recall hearing reports, but I cannot recall anything about where I was when I first learned of this grievous act. Sadly, I cannot recall what my response was either, other than, I believe, sadness over his loss of life. Looking back, I think it is likely an indictment of the worldview I had as a church-going, yet unconverted, teenager in a Southern Baptist congregation. My culture, more than the Bible, controlled my worldview. At the time, I didn’t appreciate the necessity of the Civil Rights Movement or the courage of Dr. King and others in upholding the truth all people are equal image bearers of God. I am grateful he and others were willing to give, or risk, their lives in a noble cause.

K. Marshall Williams | Age 16 at the time Dr. King was assassinated. Learned of the assassination while sitting in his Jr. High School classroom in Paoli, Penn., just outside of Philadelphia.

I was distraught as my teacher told us what happened! I can remember being broken-hearted, crying profusely, as he was my hero. I didn't know what this world was coming to, and I didn't get any answers.

These stories remind us that what seems like a far-off event wasn’t that long ago. The reality of his death and the pain that it caused continues to be felt and experienced by many still living today. These recollections help me remember that there is yet work to be done in our nation, even as we’ve come so far. Let’s remember the history but not forget the triumph and progress our nation has made in racial reconciliation. God moves in mysterious ways—turning sorrows into laughter and tears into singing.

Reference Links

By / Jan 19

God loves us and He is for us, but we are not always for him.

Few moments in history are a more vivid illustration of that fact than the occasion for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s letter from the Birmingham jail in April 1963. He was in jail after being arrested during a nonviolent protest against racial segregation. And he wrote this open letter in response to a letter signed by eight white Birmingham clergymen who were appealing to Dr. King to show more patience and to allow the local citizens to negotiate for justice through the proper channels.

Dr. King’s open letter from jail was widely circulated throughout the summer of 1963. It has been the subject of both criticism and admiration for over fifty years, but it remains a remarkable tutor for the church as we consider our responsibility to “Speak up for those who have no voice, for the justice of all who are dispossessed” and to “speak up, judge righteously, and defend the cause of the oppressed and needy” (Prov. 31:8-9).

Everyone should read the letter from the Birmingham jail, but below are a few excerpts along with eight lessons that well-applied can still change a nation.

Start and stay humble.

“But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statements in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.” 

The eight Birmingham clergymen were standing on the sidelines while Dr. King and others were fighting the good fight. It would have been easy for him to vilify them because of their perspective and their complacency. Instead, he took a humble posture and stayed on the high road. Even after making his case, Dr. King ended his letter with humility and kindness. We never effect positive change through disrespect. God will sooner use our humility than our indignity to turn our enemy into an ally.

Assume the problem of injustice is your problem.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Dr. King was criticized as “outsider” from Atlanta. When it came to the issue of justice, he did not see himself as an outsider anywhere and neither should we. We are our brother’s keeper, and we do not have the luxury of waiting until injustice is on our doorstep to act. Those who are far from us are no less our responsibility than those who are just across the street.

Speak up sooner than later.

“There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair.”

Dr. King believed the time for waiting was over. Delay seems to give advantage to the oppressor rather than to the oppressed. If we saw a man beating a woman in the street we would run immediately to give aid. Injustice calls with an urgent cry. It is desperate. Not every need is a call from God to act, but let us avoid the temptation to close our ears and look the other way. Let us not pit intentionality against urgency. Let us not discount the legitimacy of the need simply because it is right here upon us. It could be that the cries for help echo in our ears because the ability to help is in our hands.

Appeal to the highest good.

“One may well ask, ‘How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?’ The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: there are just laws, and there are unjust laws.”

Scholars and legal minds have used Dr. King’s letter as a reference point for understanding and applying what is known as natural law. Just because something is legal does not mean it is right. Dr. King reminded his readers that Hitler’s actions were legal; but there is a higher law, the law of God, that rightly condemned Hitler’s actions.

Laws established in the state house are always subject to the law of God established in heaven and recorded in the Bible. And it is in the society’s best interest when the people of God know the difference and champion the causes nearest to the heart of God.

Prepare to suffer for doing right.

“One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty.”

According to Dr. King, to obey God occasionally means we disobey the civil authorities over us. We know this as civil disobedience. But when we disobey an unjust law, we do not hide, we do not act in a spirit of hatred, and we do not expect to be above the legal consequences of our actions. Sometimes suffering is required on our part to relieve the suffering of others.

Take action to make a difference.

“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

“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?”

We do not rescue the oppressed from the lukewarm waters of compromise. Justice is not a call to agreement. It is a call to action. Action topples the status quo in our churches and sometimes puts a strain on our most cherished friendships. It is our action not our sentiment, however, that makes the difference for the people who are hurting the most.

Mobilize the church to champion justice.

“So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Par from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.”

“If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.”

Jesus showed compassionate attention to the poor, the captive, the weak, and the hurting. “The least of these” was not a secondary consideration. His public teaching was often in the context of His public service to people who needed help. The church without mercy is the church without a voice.

Dr. King believed churches would rally together for the cause of racial equality. He was wrong. Many churches sat this one out. And we learned again that neutrality is never neutral in its effect. God created every person, ascribed dignity to every person, and sent His Son to redeem every person, so justice is not something the church supports. Justice is central to our Gospel mission.

Never give up.

“If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.”

Dr. King faced opposition from the right and from the left. People he counted on did not come through. His family felt the pains of persecution. Despite many reasons to despair, Dr. King did not. He knew his cause was just and that his God was faithful. We too can carry on with great confidence that when we work for justice, God accomplishes much.

So let us persevere in our fight for the unborn. Let us walk on in our advocacy for the orphan and widow. Let us stay the course to rescue the vulnerable from the sex traffickers. Let us keep working to starve hunger in our day. And may the next generation look back with admiration and look ahead with inspiration in the way we sacrificed to defend the most helpless among us and to speak up for those who had no voice.

This article was originally published here.

By / Jan 19

NOTE: The 2015 ERLC Leadership Summit will address "The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation" to equip Christians to apply the gospel on these issues with convictional kindness in their communities, their families, and their churches. This event will be held in Nashville on March 26-27, 2015. To learn more go here.

One of my earliest memories is of a substitute Sunday school teacher chastening me for putting a coin in my mouth. “That’s filthy,” she said. “Why, you don’t know if a colored man might have held that.” It might just be my imagination playing tricks on me, but it seems as though she immediately followed this up with, “Alright children, let’s sing ‘Jesus Loves the Little Children, All the Children of the World.’”

Now, this lady probably didn’t consciously think of herself as a white supremacist. She almost certainly didn’t think of herself as subversive of the gospel itself. She never thought about the hypocrisy of holding the two contradictory worldviews together in her mind. She probably didn’t see how her dehumanizing of African-Americans was a twisted form of Darwinism rather than biblical Christianity.

She wasn’t alone.

On the question of civil rights in the American Christian context, there is little question that, with few exceptions, the “progressives” were right, often heroically right, and the “conservatives” were wrong, often satanically wrong. In the narrative of the dismantling of Jim Crow, conservatives were often the villains and progressives were most often on the side of the angels, indeed on the side of Jesus.

The question is not whether the progressives won the argument or whether they should have won the argument; the question is why they were persuasive, ultimately, on this point (and almost no other) to their more conservative brothers and sisters. The turnaround is striking, perhaps nowhere more clearly than in my denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), where a generation ago most conservative leaders were segregationists.

Some, of course, will claim cynically that conservative evangelical leaders, like some national politicians, don’t play with racial demagogy anymore because such appeals don’t “work” anymore in 21st century America. Nobody wants to be seen as a racist. Well, okay, but, even if one accepts that argument, why is it true that a segregationist would be barred (and rightly so) from speaking at the SBC Pastors’ Conference of 2013 and wouldn’t be at the SBC Pastors’ Conference of 1950? Isn’t it because the people wouldn’t tolerate it? Well, why the change? It must be more than just changing American culture since conservative evangelicals have been in the throes of a much-hyped “culture war” on all sorts of issues since the 1960s?

Why is civil rights no longer a “culture war” issue? Why were the voices of the civil rights pioneers persuasive, not only to mainstream America but to conservative Christians as well? Some might argue it is because the culture has changed. But the culture has changed just as much (if not more so) on the question of gender and sexual issues, after three waves of feminism and a sexual revolution, but not so for traditionalist Catholics and confessional Protestants.

The reason SBC progressives, and the larger civil rights movement, were persuasive was because of the mode of their argument. The progressives, as scholar David Chappell shows in his book Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow, appealed to biblical orthodoxy and missionary zeal in their arguments, not simply to the arc of historical progress.

This is true at the macro level—think of the King James Version of the Bible woven so intricately into the themes of Martin Luther King’s speeches and sermons. It is also true at the micro level. SBC civil rights advocates—from Foy Valentine to T.B. Maston to Henlee Barnette—argued from decidedly conservative biblical concepts.

The civil rights movement struggled on multiple fronts. In the political sphere, leaders such as King pointed out how the American system was inconsistent with Jeffersonian principles of the “self-evident” truth that “all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” Politically, Americans had to choose: be American (as defined in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence) or be white supremacist; you can’t be both. King and his compatriots were right.

But the civil rights movement was, at core, also an ecclesial movement. King was, after all, “Rev. King” and many of those marching with him, singing before him, listening to him, were Christian clergy and laity. To the churches, especially the churches of the South, the civil rights pioneers sent a similar message to the one they sent to the governmental powers. You have to choose: be a Christian (as defined by the Scripture and the small “c” catholic apostolic tradition) or be a white supremacist; you can’t be both. They were right here too.

How can white supremacy be true, they would argue, if humanity is made from “one blood” in the creation of Adam? How can one segregate evangelistic crusades if the cross of Christ atones for all people, both white and black? If God personally regenerates repentant sinners, both white and black, how can we see people in terms of “race” rather than in terms of the person? If we send missionaries across the seas to evangelize Africa, how is it not hypocrisy not to admit African-Americans into church membership?

The biblical power of the argument is true, regardless of whether all the civil rights pioneers, in the SBC and out of it, believed in biblical orthodoxy.

Many did. See the faithful heroine Fannie Lou Hamer of Sunflower County, Misssissippi, for example. If Baptists had a means of canonization, I’d support it for her. I still claim the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party as my partisan home, and I say expand the “freedom” to the unborn as well as the born, even though the party doesn’t exist anymore.

But regardless of personal faith, the civil rights heroes indicted conservative hypocrites, prophetically, with the conservatives’ own convictional claims. And, as Jesus promised, “My sheep hear my voice and they follow me.”

The arguments for racial reconciliation were persuasive, ultimately, to orthodox Christians because they appealed to a higher authority than the cultural captivity of white supremacy. These arguments appealed to the authority of Scripture and the historic Christian tradition.

This authority couldn’t easily be muted by a claim to a “different interpretation” because racial equality was built on premises conservatives already heartily endorsed: the universal love of God, the unity of the race in Adam, the Great Commission and the church as the household of God.

With this the case, the legitimacy of segregation crumbled just as the legitimacy of slavery had in the century before, and for precisely the same reasons. Segregation, like slavery, was shown to be what all human consciences already knew it to be: not just a political injustice or a social inequity (although certainly that) but also a sin against God and neighbor and a repudiation of the gospel. Regenerate hearts ultimately melted before such arguments because in them they heard the voice of their Christ, a voice they’d heard in the Scriptures themselves.

Conservative Christians, and especially Southern Baptists, must be careful to remember the ways in which our cultural anthropology perverted our soteriology and ecclesiology. It is to our shame that we ignored our own doctrines to advance something as clearly demonic as racial pride. And it is a shame that sometimes it took theological liberals to remind us of what we claimed to believe in an inerrant Bible, what we claimed to be doing in a Great Commission.

A version of this article originally ran on January 18, 2010.

By / Jan 15

On the third Monday of each January, Americans observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a federal holiday marking the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It is observed around the time of King’s birthday, Jan. 15.

Here are five facts you should know about MLK:

1. King’s literary and rhetorical masterpiece was his 1963 open letter “The Negro Is Your Brother,” better known as the “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” The letter, written while King was being held for a protest in the city, was a response to a statement made by eight white Alabama clergymen titled “A Call for Unity.” An editor at The New York Times Magazine, Harvey Shapiro, asked King to write his letter for publication in the magazine, though the Times chose not to publish it.

2. In 1964, King became the second African American—and the third black man—to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

3. A decade before he was assassinated, King was nearly stabbed to death in Harlem when a mentally ill African American woman who believed he was conspiring against her with communists stabbed him in the chest with a letter opener. He underwent emergency surgery and remained hospitalized for several weeks, but he made a full recovery. The doctor who performed the operation said, “Had Dr. King sneezed or coughed, the weapon would have penetrated the aorta. … He was just a sneeze away from death”

4. On April 4, 1968, King was assassinated by the #277 man on the FBI’s Most Wanted Fugitives list. In 1967, James Earl Ray escaped from the Missouri State Penitentiary by hiding in a truck transporting bread from the prison bakery. After being convicted for the murder of King, Ray was sentenced to 99 years in Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary. In 1977, Ray became the #351 on the FBI’s Most Wanted Fugitives list after he and six other convicts escaped from the prison. He was recaptured three days later and given another year in prison, bringing his sentence to 100 years.

5. The campaign for a federal holiday in King’s honor began soon after his assassination in 1968, but Martin Luther King Jr. Day did not become a U.S. federal holiday until Ronald Reagan begrudgingly signed the holiday into law in 1983. (Reagan was concerned that a paid holiday for federal employees would be too expensive.) Only two other persons have U.S. national holidays honoring them: George Washington and Christopher Columbus.

By / Mar 10

Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for freedom and equal rights for black Americans and other minorities oppressed by the white majority. King and his followers achieved many victories through such laws as the Civil Rights Act criminalizing racial discrimination. But decades after King’s assassination, black Americans experience an increasing amount of rhetorical racism from blacks and whites alike.

Rhetorical racism perpetrated by blacks against blacks can be traced to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s scandalous novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Stowe exposed the horrors of slavery in part by placing at the center of her narrative a house slave named Uncle Tom, presented as a virtuous, hard-working and apparently Christian slave. Against the advice of fellow slaves, Uncle Tom refused to flee his master, instead faithfully serving as long as he was his master’s property.

Consequently, the phrase Uncle Tom entered popular American culture as a derogatory epithet directed toward blacks by other blacks who judged the former group untrue to their African American selves. The phrase accuses targeted blacks of caring more about pleasing whites than about preserving African American identity and particularity.

A good education, proper English, a good work ethic, evangelical Christianity and membership in a multiethnic or mostly white church are among characteristics that might attract the Uncle Tom moniker. White associates, interracial relationships, a traditional family, theological or political conservatism, certain musical and dietary preferences, cross-race adoptions, an honest living and enrollment in certain schools are also among characteristics that sometimes attract the term. Discussions about Uncle Tom-ness in the media support some of the preceding assertions.

A couple of years ago, at least two black former professional athletes publically referred to two black athletes as Uncle Toms, referencing privileged upbringings, attendance at a certain school, a good home-life and an international upbringing.

Ironically, many blacks who call others an Uncle Tom often use the n-word as a term of endearment, in spite of its traditional use by white racists and slave owners to shame and dishonor Africans enslaved in America. Furthermore, racists continue to use the term to dehumanize blacks.

Some blacks use the n-word in attempts to be hip, cool, socially acceptable or funny, but these same blacks often have a double standard. Some of them would be offended if a white person called them the n-word, while finding the term either less offensive or inoffensive when uttered by blacks. In fact a few years ago some very accomplished blacks in the film industry publically criticized a white woman who works in media when she publically stated that no one, white or black, should use the term because it is offensive.

As a black with a multiracial background, born in an extremely racist part of Eastern Kentucky and reared there for 18 years, I have been called a number of racist epithets by both blacks and whites throughout my 35 years of life. White racists have called me everything from a black n-word, a colored kid, to a colored boy for reasons that they deemed appropriate. Likewise, black racists have called me everything from a black n-word, Uncle Tom, whitey, sell out, half-breed, or high yellow.

In my view, the n-word is the most offensive racist slur directed toward blacks, regardless of the ethnicity and race of the person speaking. The reason is quite simple. White racists used this term from its inception to dehumanize, dishonor and ostracize Africans enslaved within what such racists thought was a superior white society. Many black descendants of slaves continue to refer endearingly to each other with this derogatory word in music, movies or casual conversation, thereby reinforcing a racist, non-redemptive rhetoric and worldview of slavery and white superiority.

I am absolutely puzzled that many blacks embrace the n-word as endearing when used within the race, since racists have used and continue to use the term to degrade and dehumanize blacks. Equally, I am baffled that many blacks use the phrase Uncle Tom to shame and paint a negative caricature of certain blacks. I am most shocked that some blacks and whites who identify with the Christian faith have no problem with this sort of racist speech. By contrast, Stowe used the phrase Uncle Tom complimentary and the n-word negatively.

All ethno-racial communities should embrace the Christian identity of Stowe’s Uncle Tom. Concurrently, we should reject the racism Uncle Tom suffered, the racist worldview that enslaved some and promoted superiority in others, and racist speech used in the novel.

All slavery is evil. Those who worked relentlessly to abolish slavery and help slaves escape and attain their freedom did the right thing, indeed the Christian thing! Yet, Stowe suggests that Uncle Tom chose to be faithful to Christ even while living within the evil institution of slavery. Stowe presents a biblical principle that neither condones the evil institution of slavery nor excludes the Bible’s permission to practice civil disobedience.

Regardless of the ethno-racial group using the rhetoric, hate-speech is sinful and dishonors our God and Christ. Consequently, no Christian should use racist hate-speech, even when socially acceptable. Black Christians should speak with redemptive speech to and about all blacks and other ethno-racial groups. We should not tolerate or approve of black church members calling other black members Uncle Tom or the n-word. Regardless of the cultural popularity of racist hate-speech, black Christians should seek to be distinctively Christian, as citizens within the kingdom of God and as members of a new race in Christ, a race filled with different races (1 Pet. 2:9).

Christians from any ethno-racial community should repent of their sins, including the sins of racism and racist speech, and express God’s great work of redemption in our lives through Christ, who is wisdom from God, righteousness, sanctification and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30).

Regardless of the ostracism we may endure, the gospel must permeate every single area of our lives if we are redeemed by Jesus’ blood. The gospel must permeate our speech to or about the different ethno-racial communities God created, because God sent Jesus to die for the sins of all, and to fashion us into a new race known as Christians (John 1:29; 3:16; Eph. 2:11-22; 1 Pet. 2:9).

God chose to save different ethno-racial groups before the foundation of the world and to unite us together in Christ by faith, so that we would be forgiven our transgressions and sins by the blood of Christ, and sealed by the Holy Spirit. God wants us to hear and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:3-14) and to be new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15).

Christians from various ethno-racial groups throughout the world are elect and foreknown — loved beforehand — by God, sprinkled by the blood of Jesus Christ and sanctified by the Holy Spirit (1 Pet. 1:1-2). God makes Christians from different ethno-racial communities into a new race in Christ, a royal priesthood, a chosen nation, and a people for God’s own possession (1 Pet. 2:9). By one’s exclusive faith in Jesus’ wrath-bearing death on the cross and by his victorious resurrection from the dead, God will redeem some from every tongue, tribe, people and nation to be Christians (Rom. 3:24; 4:25; Rev. 5:9).

God saves Christians to be holy, to be living sacrifices to him in every area of our lives, including how we speak to and about one another (Rom. 8:28-30; 12:1-2). Scripture teaches us to lay aside filthy speech, coarse jesting and every form of evil. Scripture commands us to be holy and not to let any evil word come out of our mouths (Eph. 4:17-5:20; 1 Pet. 1:3-2:10). God wants the redeemed to speak to and about each other in Spirit-filled love, with words that build up instead of destroy (Gal. 5:16-26; James 3:5-10), because Jesus redeemed our souls and our speech.

May a God-centered, Christ-exalting, Spirit-filled and edifying vision of gospel-centered, ethno-racial reconciliation redeem our speech and empower us to live distinctively as the people of God in this present evil age.

By / Feb 4

The Bible was central to the thought, rhetoric and development of the Civil Rights Movement. This was influenced by the essential role of black churches and preachers in the organization of the movement. Not only was the movement characterized by meetings in churches and the singing of Negro spirituals, it was also marked by biblical themes and biblical rhetoric.

A prime example of popular civil rights rhetoric is Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech delivered on August 28, 1963. The speech reflected King’s criticisms and hopes for America set in the language of the prophets of the Old Testament. For example, he said satisfaction would not come until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24). This was familiar language in the Bible-literate America of that day. In the conclusion as King soars into describing his dream, he dreams of a day when “every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together” (Isa. 40:4-5). It should not be taken for granted that the celebrated leader of the Civil Rights Movement was a black Baptist preacher.

The central intellectual strain behind the movement focused on the issue of the equality of all humans, since they were “created . . . in the image of God” (Gen. 1:27), whether black or white. Throughout the black freedom struggle in American history, the biblical teachings on creation and human dignity were foundational to the arguments being put forth, both by scholars and by everyday people. Even those who were illiterate knew from the rhetoric of the movement that God had created all people from one man (Acts 17:26).

In his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” written April 16, 1963, King resorts to biblical examples as a defense when he is accused of being an extremist for participating in demonstrations, sit-ins and boycotts. He asked whether Jesus was an extremist when he said “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). He also cites the prophet Amos and the apostle Paul, asking whether their words and actions were not also “extreme.” Finally, reflecting on Jesus’ death on Calvary, he wrote that “Jesus was an extremist for love, truth, and goodness.” In his appeal to white ministers for support, King commonly cited biblical texts and the examples of Christ.

The Bible was central to the energy of the Civil Rights Movement. In planning meetings, preachers and laypersons read from its pages. In public disputes, everyday people quoted its promises and its truth regarding the dignity of all humanity, regardless of skin color. It would not be a stretch to suggest that the Civil Rights Movement would have lacked moral fiber (and one might further say divine blessing) without the underlying truth claims drawn from the Bible.

Read the original article here