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Rev. Dr. Nicole Martin Featured in USA Today: Martin Luther King's Legacy Built on the Bible that Inspired Him

April 4, 2018

The following article originally appeared in USA Today witten by Rev. Dr. Nicole Martin, Assistant Professor of Ministry and Leadership Development.

Martin Luther King's Legacy Built on the Bible That Inspired Him

The 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s death is a reminder to work together on racial reconciliation through the church today.

This week, amid stories of Russian spies, police brutality and debates about gun control and immigration, the nation’s collective conscience will drift for a moment to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as the 50th anniversary of his death comes and goes. Assassinated at only 39 years old after rising to national prominence at a young age, I am convinced Dr. King’s work had just begun. His lasting impact on our society cannot be overestimated.

Yet, when today unarmed people are being murdered in their backyards and innocent victims are being targeted with bombs, we cannot question whether racially-motivated hatred still exists. Fifty years later, what would Dr. King have to say to us?

 While most people do not perceive themselves as hateful, we can all agree that we have room to grow in our knowledge and understanding of those who look different from us. Growth can begin in a place where Dr. King perhaps felt most at home — the church.

As we read coverage of his life and accomplishments this week, let us not forget the inspiration and motivation for everything he did — his Christian faith. Dr. King’s reliance upon the Bible guided each step he took. If he had not been first a student of the Scriptures, I wonder if he would have had the tenacity, commitment to peace, magnetic appeal, confidence, courage and patience to pursue the work he did. We cannot separate his faith from the public figure he was and still is today.

Dr. King famously said that 11 a.m. on Sunday mornings was the “most segregated hour in America,” and this is still true today. However, his life bore witness to the reality that as long as there is oppression in the world, there will always be a need for safe spaces of worship for those who feel oppressed. But, what if American Christians, even those worshipping within their own racial contexts, began to reach out to one another in meaningful ways? What if we continued to embrace our religious heritage while working to understand members of the church across town? What if black pastors and white pastors were intentional about becoming friends and supporting one another? What if they studied God’s Word together and shared their life and ministry experiences? And what if their parishioners did the same?

Relationships lead to change. When people connect in deep and meaningful ways, walls begin to fall. We see each other more clearly and from that sight comes understanding. From understanding comes compassion, and from compassion comes empathy, shared experience and, finally, friendship.

As a black woman working daily toward racial reconciliation in a southern city like Charlotte, I have seen and heard encouraging things. I am currently collaborating with more than 20 pastors — black and white — on an initiative that pairs churches with one another for ongoing Bible study opportunities. Groups are forming and discussions are beginning to happen. The Church can begin to turn some tides.

In general, members of white churches seem eager to participate, yet some are still intimidated by the idea of facing hard conversations that force them to examine their own privilege. By and large, members of black churches are willing and optimistic, but many tend to approach more warily with a sense that perhaps this has all been tried before. Some seem exhausted from attempts to illuminate reality for those who simply do not understand. But, slowly, I am seeing movement toward one another. I am watching as friendships unfold and people begin to identify the Bible as a unifier and source of hope.

Will a Bible study prevent the next act of racially motivated violence? Probably not. But, will a Bible study that leads to a true authentic friendship and connections made through shared faith lead us in the right direction? I believe it can.

Dr. King made our lives better and the book that inspired it all — the Bible — is still instructive and relevant today. If I can open the pages of Scripture with a white woman whose life experiences have been radically different from my own, maybe, just maybe, we will each get a glimpse of ourselves in the other. If I can truly see her and she me, all through our common faith and exploration of the Bible, together we can work toward a legacy that would make Dr. King proud.
 

Rev. Nicole Martin holds a Bachelor’s degree from Vanderbilt University, a Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary and a Doctor of Ministry from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. She is a Senior Mobilizer with American Bible Society in Charlotte, North Carolina. She serves on the faculty of Gordon-Conwell and is author of the book, Made to Lead: Empowering Women for Ministry.

 


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