Combating Religious Hatred News

King’s death remembered with pledges to confront racism

Participants in the A.C.T. to End Racism Rally walk along the National Mall on April 4, 2018, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Religion News Service is marking the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. with stories and commentaries looking back at the tragic, momentous event. The rest of the package can be found here.

WASHINGTON (RNS) — They began marching just after dawn from the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, 50 years to the day after the civil rights leader was assassinated.

They silenced their voices and, walking to the beat of a drum, traveled halfway down the National Mall. Some in sneakers and some in clerical stoles, they then prayed a spectrum of prayers — from Anglican to Zoroastrian — before they settled in for a set of speeches with a lofty subject: ending racism.

The A.C.T. to End Racism Rally, seeking to “awaken, confront and transform” society about racism, drew thousands of people on Wednesday (April 4). It was one of the largest events ever planned by the National Council of Churches, an ecumenical network of 38 groups including mainline, Orthodox, black Protestant and Quaker churches.

“It was Dr. King who talked about the three evils that stand in our way, and we can call them the three weapons of mass destruction,” said the Rev. Toussaint King Hill Jr., pastor of West Hunter Street Baptist Church in Atlanta and a cousin of King. “We can say racism. We can say economic inequality, and we can say militarism. Those three evils still permeate our land.”

Speaker after speaker throughout the day said King’s vision had not been realized and it was up to leaders of houses of worship to act directly to achieve his goals, most especially on combating racism, so the people over whom those leaders have influence no longer ignore its presence in society.

Some, such as a Mormon official whose church opened the priesthood to blacks 40 years ago, acknowledged that their houses of worship had been late in addressing the matter. Others pointed down the street to the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. — “the Pharaoh in the White House,” said Rabbi Arthur Waskow of The Shalom Center in Philadelphia — as a contributor to the nation’s racial tensions.

But many looked ahead to the job they say needs to be done by religious leaders to move beyond those tensions.

“If you believe in the image of God you will make sure that there is not one vote suppressed in this next election,” said the Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners magazine and author of “America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege and the Bridge to a New America.”

“To believe in the image of God means that we must form a multiracial, multifaith campaign to protect voters.”

“Are you in?” he asked, saying this would be a theological rather than a political effort.

“Yes!” the crowd in view of the Capitol replied.

Between a Baltimore boys’ choir singing “I Have a Dream” and gospel artist Yolanda Adams performing “I’ve Got the Victory,” people listening took time out to talk about their personal next steps for addressing racism.

The Rev. Rob Keithan of All Souls Church Unitarian, a Washington congregation that has held a course to help whites become allies of blacks, plans a new series of multicultural “beloved conversations” in line with King’s notion of a “beloved community.” Keithan embraces the NCC’s plans for a multiyear truth and reconciliation process.

“South Africa did this work long ago,” he said. “The United States still has not done the work it needs to do.”

Supporters ranged from Catholics to evangelicals who are part of social justice networks.

A Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) clergyman from the Midwest talked of working harder to recruit people of color as ministers.

“Everybody’s got to be at the table,” said the Rev. Bill Spangler-Dunning, Upper Midwest regional minister for the denomination. “It’s not the whole body of Christ.”

The Rev. Leslie Copeland-Tune, an organizer of the gathering and the director of Ecumenical Advocacy Days, said the rally was part of three days of events, including training sessions planned for Thursday at local Washington churches on how to lobby local, state and national politicians on issues related to racial disparities such as economic injustice, environmental justice, clean water and immigration. And she hopes for a sharing of resources among denominations that already have written guides so congregants can take a “deeper dive” on issues such as white privilege and racial injustice.

She said people often think they’ve done what is needed if they can say “I’m not using the N-word and I’m nice to people.”

She added: “Really it takes a lot more than that.”

As people gathered on the Mall, others have been meeting in other parts of the country — from the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn., located at the Lorraine Motel where King was killed, to the King Center, started by his family members in Atlanta after his death to continue his nonviolent mission. Evangelicals affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention and The Gospel Coalition also gathered in Memphis for a two-day discussion of racial justice and unity.

Although the NCC was involved in the civil rights movement in the ’50s and ’60s, its recent past financial struggles suggested such an event might not be possible for the ecumenical group. In 2013, it left its longtime headquarters in New York known as the “God Box” for offices on Washington’s Capitol Hill and dramatically reduced its staff and operations.

NCC President Jim Winkler said his agency is past “that near-death experience” and its member denominations are ready to jointly take on what he called “the toughest issue in the entire history of North and South America. That is the legacy of slavery and racism and we’re going to do it fearlessly.”

The night before the event on the Mall, some ralliers who arrived early sat beneath the Byzantine dome and icons of Washington’s St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral and were told that the notion of ending racism should not be considered an impossible task.

“Certainly, ending racism might seem like an aspiration but, like the very first disciples, we followers of Jesus are called to bear witness to something that the world cannot yet believe is possible,” said the Rev. Sharon Watkins, director of the NCC’s Truth and Racial Justice Initiative and the president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). “We are called to say this can happen. Racism can end.”

Margaret Holland, left, and Lily Quintero traveled to Washington from Vermont with their youth group. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Fifteen-year-olds Lily Quintero and Margaret Holland, who traveled from Vermont with their multicultural United Church of Christ youth group, were impressed to hear white people like Watkins — and other perfect strangers — addressing a cause long a concern for them as teens with mixed racial backgrounds.

“It’s kind of nice,” said Quintero in the balcony of the Orthodox cathedral for the “ecumenical gathering to end racism” held hours before the Mall event.

“I don’t know any of these people and they’re kind of like fighting for my cause with me,” said Holland.

About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.

25 Comments

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  • When a majority of white U.S. Christians cast their vote for a moral monstrosity of a presidential candidate who runs a campaign reveling in the filthiest, most overt racism, it’s clear that a majority of white Christians in America don’t believe that racism is a sin, and have long since swallowed the poison pill of slaveholder Christianity.

  • One day it is my hope that we will finally realize Dr. King’s dream and realize that race is not nearly as important as we invest meaning into it. What is important is character and behavior. My skin is just an organ that protects my body. Its color is not particularly relevant to my value as a person. My behavior is.

  • Worldwide peace and complete brotherhood of man, no matter our race, culture, or nation, will soon be realized, as well as the dream of Dr. King, my brother in the human family.

    Those blessings cannot be realized through imperfect men and their selfish, greedy, corrupt and unjust governments….just look at their results for the past century!

    We also have the increase of lawlessness, crime, terrorists, fear, addictions of all sorts, wars, and nuclear threats from persons in power, just to name a few!

    That is why God will soon intervene in man’s affairs and put an end to ALL of our problems on earth!

    He will do that through the rule of his loving, peaceful, just and righteous heavenly government (Daniel 2:44), after putting an end to all wicked ones, through his son, Christ Jesus (Isaiah 9:6,7; 11:1-5), its King!

    God will also put an end to all pain, suffering, sickness, disease, and even death on earth (Revelation 21:3,4).

    And what about Dr. King? To quote an old song, “he ain’t heavy; he’s my brother,” and he has the marvelous hope of resurrection back to life on earth (John 5:28,29) from his sleeping in death a very long time (Ecclesiastes 9:5,10), who is alive in God’s memory (Matthew 22:31,32).

    Only then will he, and all the rest of us, see that dream become a reality, because of God’s intense love for mankind! ????

  • “We know that there are many things wrong in the white world, but there are many things wrong in the black world too. We can’t keep on blaming the white man. There are things we must do for ourselves.”
    If only they truly followed their savior.

  • Do you count time and return visits for your online service? I quit the Witnesses before the internet was available.

  • So who is to blame for the remaining systemic racism in our country? Your vitrol for MLK has no logical basis. What is it about him you dislike?

  • William, I feel your frustration, but recall that Trump didn’t get the majority of votes, nor did hardly all of America vote. The events of 2016 seem to have sparked a realization in many Americans that we must step up our efforts in order to make everyone free.

  • systemic racism??? Stop watching Tv. It doesn’t exist!
    Start spending time at Amren. You need a serious balance of information.

  • I like how you COMPLETELY disregarded MLK’S own words. Nice.

    Not to mention……I said NOTHING about MLK. I simply included his quote.

  • Racism is not just a white mans sin ,its mans sin “course to help whites become allies of blacks,” Why can’t we learn to be each others allies ?

  • Actually it entirely is a white man’s sin. Because only white people in this country held the power to turn racist beliefs into color of law to attack the rights of others.

  • Blacks and Chinese and South Asians and any other race or culture can be racist . You are blinding just looking at one sector of a larger problem

  • But who has the power in this country to give racist ideas color of law? It isn’t any minority group.

  • That lie is totally fake, every time I hear a black person say it. Don’t fall for our fakes, Spud.

    Take a look at the opening photograph. What does the sign say? “Racism Is A Sin.”

    But if that’s true, then via 1 Cor. 10:13, racism is “common to humanity.” **Anybody** is subject to the temptation of that sin. Hence it is NOT the exclusive domain of any one group of humans.

    People, don’t let these BLM black activists and their fake wordplay, bamboozle ya. Stick with the Bible’s position on sins like racism.

  • Forget that argument too, Spuddie. We blacks are backsliding so badly that we’ll even bring back the good ole Jim Crow segregation mess.

    Sep 06, 2016 (The Daily Caller)….

    “California State University Los Angeles has debuted segregated housing available to students who “identify as Black/African American.”

  • No link to the actual source? Sorry but the daily caller is not a source I take at face value nor anyone should. Conservatives have no problem aligning themselves with white supremacists. People who didn’t think segregation was so bad.

  • Until there is a pejorative for white people on par with any ones given for any other group, you are out of luck. No other group has the political power to give racist ideas color of law.

  • Only one race matters here because only one has and still can give it color of law. Until that changes, all other groups lack significance in this matter.

  • Your missing the point there are black people ,white ,yellow, or whatever color there is ,that are racist. Whose in power in whatever place one happens to be is not the issue. Racism a a problem of ALL mankind , racism didn’t suddenly arise when the white man came on the scene ,if we don’t come to this realization we will never be able to deal with the issue

  • And the effects of their racism are non existent. There is also no tangible evidence of “reverse racism” in the infinitesimal areas which are not controlled by the political majority.

    Hence of no concern.

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