By Bob Allen
A leadership group in the American Baptist Churches USA adopted a statement March 13 celebrating the role of American Baptists in the civil rights movement and recognizing the 50th anniversary of the March 1965 five-day march from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery led by Martin Luther King Jr.
The executive committee of the ABC/USA Board of General Ministries of American Baptist Churches, said a March 7 ceremony honoring marchers for voting rights attacked by police as they tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge “reminds us that this moral movement for justice and equality was birthed in the church from a faith that believes that all are created in the image of God and are worthy of love, justice and respect.”
“Throughout their history American Baptists have been led by the gospel mandates to be directly active in the institutions of society to promote holistic and healing change,” the statement said. “The tradition of social outreach and ministry extends back to the enfranchisement and education of freedmen following the Civil War, through frontline advocacy of the civil rights movement, the empowerment of women in church and society, ecological responsibility and the many contemporary issues of justice.”
Martin Luther King’s home church, Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, is an American Baptist congregation. King was a participant in the Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board — which provides insurance and retirement services for American Baptist Churches and 10 other denominational groups including the four largest historically African-American Baptist groups — and his wife and children received support after his assassination on April 4, 1968.
King graduated from Crozier Theological Seminary, now part of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, where his views on ministry developed in Bible study and theology interpreted by Baptist tradition.
King spoke at the 1964 American Baptist Convention meeting in Atlantic City, N.J. An official of the American Baptist Home Mission Societies once offered King a job as a consultant, but King turned down the offer, saying he had decided to spend more time in the South and devote more of his time to the struggle for civil rights.
King planned to visit Russia under the auspices of the American Baptist Convention but decided against it during a tour of India in 1959, fearing it “would have taken on too many political connotations.”
The General Board of the American Baptist Churches passed a resolution honoring King’s legacy after his birthday became recognized as a national holiday.
“Because of the longstanding commitment to outreach to and fellowship with all persons, American Baptist Churches USA today is the most racially inclusive body within Protestantism and will within the next few years be comprised of no racial/ethnic majority group,” the March 13 executive committee statement declared.
The statement said recent events in Ferguson, Mo., and other incidents “are vivid reminders that our journey as a nation to a society free of racism has not yet ended.”
“We affirm today that black lives matter,” the leaders said. “Every life matters. And we call again upon our churches to bring forth from the wells of our faith a renewed moral movement to end the scourge of racism.”