Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, so that you may live and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you. (Deuteronomy 16:20)
Monday, January 15, was the 89th anniversary of the birth of slain civil rights leader, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In this first year of Trinity Lutheran Seminary’s union with Capital University, some members of the Trinity community participated in Capital’s MLK Day of Learning. Regular classes were cancelled in order to allow time for expanded learning, with guest speakers and workshops on topics such as Muslims in the U.S., responding to bias, and the Black Church’s response to Black voter suppression.
Other members of the Trinity community attended the Thirty-third Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Breakfast at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. We were challenged not only to honor Dr. King’s memory but also to embrace his agenda: justice. Referring to Dr. King’s claim that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” Dr. Michael V. Drake, president of The Ohio State University, encouraged us to be the active subjects of that sentence: “We must bend it,” he insisted. Keynote speaker, the Honorable Judge Glenda Hackett, who left a successful career as a corporate attorney to become a juvenile court judge, used the language of vocation to reflect not only on her own work but on the common work of justice to which we all are called. “How dare we not do what we gotta do when we’re called upon to do it?!” she asked passionately. It was an inspiring morning.
Many do not know that Martin Luther King, Jr., and his father were originally named Michael. As a Baptist minister, King, Sr., was a participant in a meeting of the World Baptist Alliance in Berlin in 1934. While in Germany, he had the opportunity to visit sites associated with the Protestant Reformation. Following his return home, he changed his name and the name of his young son from Michael to Martin Luther, claiming the legacy of the sixteenth-century German reformer.
Fifty years after Dr. King’s assassination, where are we? We can certainly point to some progress, but we must also confess that there is still deep racial division in our society. Given the track record of Lutherans on diversity and inclusion, I wonder if “Daddy” King would still claim the name and legacy of Martin Luther today. When the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, with which Trinity and Capital are affiliated, was founded in 1988, it set the goal that persons of color and primary language other than English would constitute at least ten percent of its membership within its first ten years. Thirty years later, the ELCA remains the whitest denomination in the United States (96 percent white, according to recent research).
On Monday, we celebrated King Day. What are we doing the other 364 days of the year? How are we reaching out beyond our comfort zones? How are we working for justice? How are we working to advance the God-given dignity of all people? How dare we not do what we gotta do when we’re called upon to do it?!
The Rev. Kathryn A. Kleinhans, Ph.D.