YDS Dean: Remembering MLK’s title—“Reverend”—is key to honoring his legacy

How to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. on the 50th anniversary of his death?

Yale Divinity School Dean Greg Sterling argues in a new piece in the New York Times that remembering the civil rights leader’s title – “Reverend”—is an essential starting point.

In a piece published today in the on-line edition of the Times, Sterling writes that King’s vocation as a Baptist preacher “is too often assigned as a footnote of history rather than a preamble to all that he was and is.”

“As the nation prepares to mark the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination that day in Memphis,” Sterling says, “it is my hope that we can recognize and celebrate the religious underpinnings of his work. To do so, it’s imperative that Christians, in particular, divorce themselves from party purity and find new ways to bring Dr. King’s moral vision and his eloquent intonations of faith to bear on current issues.”

Noting that today’s civil rights movement is more secular than the one King led a half-century ago, Sterling called on Christians to recommit themselves to King’s cause.

“This is not a time for progressive Christians — whether liberal or conservative in theology — to bow out,” Sterling writes. “Instead, the proper celebration of Dr. King’s legacy and all he stood for would be to see our nation’s churches, synagogues, mosques and temples unite behind a common mission: to protect the innocent, to lift the needy, to love the immigrant and to feed the poor. I exhort fellow Christians, in particular, not to unite behind a party, but instead to unite behind Scripture and the Lord who speaks through it.


Editor’s note: Yale Divinity School will participate in an international “MLK50 Bell Toll” on the evening of April 4. Read more. 


“Dr. King understood how religion and the voice of Jesus Christ could power his cause. He preached it. He lived it. He gave his life for it. In honor of this great man, and as I celebrate his life and accomplishments, I will pray that his ultimate vision, his dream, will become a reality for all.”


Read Dean Sterling’s piece in the N.Y. Times: The Politically Progressive Faith of Martin Luther King’ (subscription required)

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April 3, 2018