“Re-Learning” King—New Baptist Covenant Bible studies highlight insights and connections to contemporary issues
Rev. Dr. Phaedra D. Blocker
February 10, 2020
This January, New Baptist Covenant was pleased to offer its third MLK, Jr. Bible Study to commemorate the birthday of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Why a Bible study? Because we believe that it is important to both keep Dr. King’s “prophetic voice” in the forefront of the struggle for racial and social justice and reconciliation, and to remind people that his message and work were firmly grounded in Scripture and the gospel of Jesus Christ. We want to encourage individuals and congregations to honor Dr. King’s legacy by doing the same.
We believe that it is important to both keep Dr. King’s “prophetic voice” in the forefront of the struggle for racial and social justice and reconciliation, and to remind people that his message and work were firmly grounded in Scripture and the gospel of Jesus Christ. We want to encourage individuals and congregations to honor Dr. King’s legacy by doing the same.
While the annual observance of Dr. King’s birthday has continued to include a variety of events—including prayer services, speech competitions, etc.—over the last couple of decades, a tremendous amount of energy and media focus has centered on the MLK Day of Service, an annual volunteer event. Volunteers all over the country gather to complete community service projects in their area. It is good, important work—work that might otherwise go undone, and work that brings together people who might not otherwise get to meet each other. The well-deserved success of the event, however, has had an unintended consequence of somewhat overshadowing a key aspect of Dr. King’s legacy: critiquing and actively working to address the causes of injustice and poverty, and not just the symptoms.
Certainly, Dr. King did say that “Everybody can be great … because everybody can serve.”[i] And in serving one another we embody what it is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31) Dr. King, however, continually raised deeper questions about what it means to love one’s neighbor. And so, while Dr. King would probably be glad to see volunteers packing toiletry kits for the homeless or grocery bags for the food insecure, he would also be pressing the question of why, in a country with the material resources of the United States, people are homeless and hungry in the first place. It is wonderful to paint and repair public school classrooms, or to stock and refurbish their libraries, but Dr. King would raise the question, “Why aren’t these schools being properly funded so that they can be properly maintained by their municipalities?”
Dr. Kecia M. Thomas, Senior Associate Dean at the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Georgia, has coined the phrase from “pet to threat” to describe the experiences of many Black women who seek to advance in corporate and academic settings.[ii] Women who are initially applauded (sometimes condescendingly, i.e., “petted”) for their gifts, excellence and productivity, later find themselves being recast as “threats” when they appropriately seek promotions or positions that would provide them access to increasing levels of power and influence. And they are professionally punished accordingly. In the case of Dr. King, the situation seems to be reversed—he has gone from “threat to pet.” While King was continually perceived as a threat by white supremacists, government officials, and even other clergy (White and Black) during his lifetime, posthumously his legacy has often been recast to portray him as a conciliatory “pet” who dreamed nice dreams about everybody loving one another.
New Baptist Covenant seeks to honor Dr. King not only by encouraging community service, but also by empowering people to engage in the non-violent activism that was at the core of his ministry.
New Baptist Covenant seeks to honor Dr. King not only by encouraging community service, but also by empowering people to engage in the non-violent activism that was at the core of his ministry. We also encourage diverse congregations to marry activism and community service by participating in our Covenant of Action program.) We publish a new Bible study each year that focuses on the social justice message and work of Dr. King—through the lens of Scripture—and leads people to engage with a wider range of Dr. King’s writings, sermons, and speeches. Our MLK, Jr. Bible Studies, which are available in versions for adults, youth, and children, draw on both Old and New Testament texts to highlight Dr. King’s insights and the connections to contemporary issues.
“Who is My Neighbor?” (2018) focuses on the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37, and discusses Dr. King’s concept of a “world house” as described in his book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? Study participants are encouraged to consider the effects of activities such as redlining and gentrification on our ability to truly become “neighbors.”
“A Mirror to the Nation,” (2019) based on Amos 5:14-15, invites us to engage Dr. King’s sermon, “A Knock at Midnight.” Like the prophet Amos, Dr. King consistently critiqued America’s lack of concern and compassion for the poor, and called for what the study’s author, Rev. Willie D. Francois, III describes as the “mobilization of a moral movement” to demonstrate love and compassion to the most vulnerable members of our society. The companion study for youth and children, “Courage to Love,” engages younger students in thinking about how they can actively demonstrate love and fight injustice.
Our 2020 offering, “Blessed Are the Peacemakers,” highlights Dr. King’s Nobel Peace Prize lecture, and considers the causes of what he identified as the “spiritual lag” of our society—racism, poverty, and war—through the lens of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.” We hope that these resources will help individuals and groups see the pursuit of justice and reconciliation as holy work, grounded in the word of God, and empower them to join Jesus of Nazareth in his mission to “to proclaim good news to the poor…to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19 NIV)
Rev. Dr. Phaedra D. Blocker is director of programs, New Baptist Covenant, and affiliate professor in Leadership and Formation, Palmer Theological Seminary of Eastern University. Bible studies, as well as other resources and information on the Covenant of Action program, are available for free download at newbaptistcovenant.org.
[ii] Thomas, K. M., Johnson-Bailey, J., Phelps, R. E., Tran, N. M., Johnson, L. (in press). Moving from pet to threat: Narratives of professional Black women. In Comas-Diaz, L., Green, B. (Eds.), The psychological health of women of color. Westport, CT: Praeger.