Monday, November 2, 2015

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) and the Parables

The three photos in this post are ones I took at the Dr. King memorial on my last trip to Washington, DC. It's well worth the visit.

Emory/Oxford responsibilities have prevented me from beginning the series on Dr. King and the parables, but today I'll sneak a note in during lunch. 

My Introduction to Religion class spent last week working through numerous speeches and sermons of Dr. King (from the book, I have a Dream), exploring them through the lens of historical Christianity. It is important for students (all of us, really) to read Dr. King in his own words, especially since the radicalness of his message is often "domesticated." See, for example, the book edited by Cornel West, The Radical King, or the helpful short book by Jennifer Yanco, Misremembering Dr. King.

This section of my own book was another one that initially ran more than 4000 words and needed to be cut to 2000 or so. I will include the sections that I cut on my blog so they are not lost. 

Dr. King's many uses of the parables are memorable, such as his continuing and developing use of the Good Samaritan parable.

First, a little background:

Martin Luther King, Jr. was the son and grandson of prominent pastors of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA. King graduated from Morehouse College at the age of fifteen; Crozer Seminary, in 1951, where he was first in his class; and Boston University, where he earned a PhD in Systematic Theology in 1955. In 1954, King became pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He became the leader of the Montgomery Improvement Association and thus the primary leader of the Montgomery Bus Boycott that began after Rosa Parks’s arrest. In 1957, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was formed with King elected as president and, in 1959, King returned to Atlanta, where he became co-pastor along with his father of Ebenezer Baptist Church.

During his years as a leader in the Civil Rights Movement, King published many important works, including Letter from the Birmingham Jail (1963), Strength to Love (1963), Why We can’t Wait (1964), and Where Do We Go from Here? (1967). King also was awarded the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize when he was only thirty-five. His emphases also included basic human rights and economic justice for all people, not just African-Americans. King created, for example, the “Poor People’s Campaign in November, 1967, which focused on jobs (full employment), unemployment insurance, low-income housing, and raising the minimum wage. As part of those efforts, he went to Memphis, Tennessee, to support striking sanitation workers. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968, as he stood on the second-story balcony at the Lorraine Hotel.

In 1966 King began working for economic equality in Chicago, Illinois, with the Chicago Freedom Movement, an organization that advocated for fair housing for all people, community development, quality education for all, fair wages and employment, and a number of other issues. King’s sermon on the Rich Fool parable, “Why Jesus Called A Man A Fool,” delivered at Mount Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church, Chicago, Illinois, on August 27, 1967, should be seen in the context of his efforts in Chicago—which were met with vitriolic racism even worse than he found in the South—to promote socio-economic equality.

The summer King preached this sermon in the heart of the Chicago slums where King had lived and worked just a year earlier, race riots had occurred in Newark, Cleveland, Detroit, and other cities. Although King opposed this violence, he argued that white society bore ultimate responsibility for the racism and oppression that led to this rage, and he urged President Johnson to focus on the underlying problem: unemployment. King’s biblical text was the parable of the Rich Fool; the sermon focused on the evils of materialism, and it stressed human dependence upon God and interdependence with other human beings (Burns 2004: 352).

I'll write about that exposition in my next post.

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