Martin Luther King Day: How to continue the legacy
Dr. Harold Lewis
Vice President of Biblical Diversity
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy calls us as a movement to keep pressing onward toward justice and equality by reaching people of all colors, cultures and categories with the gospel of Jesus Christ by starting and strengthening churches and sending missionaries around the world.
As we commemorate the 51st anniversary of Dr. King’s tragic death and celebrate the year of his 90thbirthday, we have an opportunity to reflect upon the state of racial unity and cultural diversity in Converge churches and our communities. This season creates a divine occasion for us to reflect on where we as followers of Christ have been and look ahead to where we must go and what we must do to pursue unity, diversity and reconciliation amid a culture of tremendous division and tension.
As we reflect and remember the legacy of Dr. King, it can be reasonably concluded that from the moment he stepped out on the national stage as a prophetic voice, the hounds of death set out on his trail. That voice was unfortunately and ultimately silenced by James Earl Ray’s fatal shot as Dr. King stood on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968.
Nevertheless, it was Dr. King’s abiding faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ that sustained him through many trials and tribulations. It was Dr. King’s faith that summoned him to hear and accept the call as an ordained Baptist minister. It was Dr. King’s faith that motivated him to be a troublemaker for Jesus.
It was Dr. King’s faith that endowed him with the hope and belief that people of all races, ethnicities and nationalities could live together as brothers and sisters. It was Dr. King’s faith that led him to criticize the church, criticize the communities around him, and unfortunately, caused him to be criticized for standing up and speaking out against racial divisions, injustices and inequalities that plagued our society.
In honoring and continuing Dr. King’s legacy, we, as a Converge movement, must not let complacency or a narrow faith blind us to what needs to agitate and aggravate us, too.
As we seek to continue the legacy of Dr. King, how can our churches serve as instruments of social justice and racial reconciliation in our current climate?
Turn up the heat and make social justice issues a priority.
Social justice is a biblical mandate and not some action emerging from political correctness. If the church is lukewarm and indifferent about social justice issues, then the church will be lukewarm and indifferent about the gospel. In Amos 5:24, the Prophet Amos declared, “let justice roll down like waters.” As believers we are called to care for the poor, the widows, the orphans and the immigrants.
If we reject and neglect social justice, we are choosing what we hold to be more important than Scripture predicated upon our own cultural biases and experiences. The church must shift its focus from seeing social justice issues as a reserved social and political activity to a sacred spiritual activity.
Become more intentional in engaging and inviting people from diverse ethnicities to fellowship within your context.
It was Dr. King who famously lamented that “the most segregated hour of Christian America is 11 o’clock on Sunday morning.” It is sad, but true, that our churches in America have a much higher rate of racial segregation than our society itself.
Why is this? Because we tend to have minimal contact with diverse people groups, cultures and ethnicities within our faith communities. When our churches are highly segregated, and we limit our interactions to only one ethnic or cultural group, we spiritually sacrifice and impoverish ourselves. Not to mention that we undermine the diverse richness that God intended for his people to experience and enjoy.
Revelation 7:9 reflects the diversity that God wants for his people. It’s a beautiful variety of cultural expressions worshiping before the throne of God. When we engage and learn from other cultures and ethnic groups, we are getting a foretaste of what heaven will be like when we all get together.
Pursue racial reconciliation.
In one of Dr. King’s sermons, The Church on the Frontier of Racial Tension, he commented, “Segregation is a moral evil which no Christian can accept. The church must make it clear that if we are to be true witnesses of Jesus Christ, we can no longer give our allegiance to a system of segregation.”
Dr. King outlines his main points for pursuing racial reconciliation, which are still relevant in the church today:
the church must develop a global worldview
teach that segregation is evil
silence the false ideas about race
establish communication between races
integrate the church
repent and forgive one another
As the church pursues and practices these elements of racial reconciliation, Scripture should always be the premise that informs its experiences.
It would also be wise for any church leader who desires to engage in racial reconciliation to partner with and allow themselves to be coached by someone of a different ethnicity. By coming under the spiritual authority of someone of a different race or ethnicity, it would allow for one’s personal presuppositions to be challenged regarding another’s cultural expressions of Christianity.
Finally, in the pursuit for racial reconciliation, the church must guard itself from cultural tokenism. All cultures must be seen and valued as a gift from God created to reflect the image of God.
Let us keep in mind during this season of remembrance and reflection that the civil rights movement only took place because the church took the lead under the spiritual leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His faith was a tool for change and a constant source of inspiration to remake our nation in the just and redemptive image of God. On the other hand, segregation was also maintained and defended theologically by the church.
And now as a movement, Converge churches stand in an existential moment in history to reclaim, renew and continue to run with the legacy of Dr. King’s dream of racial reconciliation, justice and equality for humanity.
Dr. Harold Lewis, Vice President of Biblical Diversity
Dr. Harold D. Lewis Sr. is Converge’s Vice President of Biblical Diversity. A native of Greenwood, Mississippi, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Tougaloo College in Tougaloo, Mississippi, a Master of Divinity from Gammon Theological Seminary in Atlanta and a Doctorate of Psychology from the University of the Rockies in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He also has been awarded multiple honorary doctorates. Dr. Lewis comes to Converge with over three decades of pastoral and leadership experience as a turnaround church pastor and a transformational coach for clergy and laypersons. His ministerial experience also includes more than 10 years of multicultural and justice responsibilities, which included collaborating with and resourcing Native American, Micronesian, Hispanic, Korean and Haitian ministries, as well as Black Methodists for Church Revival and the Conference Committee on Religion and Race.