“When the church is true to its nature, when it is true to the gospel of Jesus Christ and when it is relevant, it is always active in any period of social change seeking to guide and direct, seeking to bring the eternal veritas of the gospel to bear on the particular situation. This is the great challenge facing the church today. This is the great challenge facing every Christian in these days of racial tension.” – Martin Luther King Jr., August 1965 at Montreat
What responsibility does the church have to help fulfill the great challenge Martin Luther King Jr. lifted up in his address at Montreat Conference Center 50 years ago? That’s the question conference leaders are hoping to address this weekend at “Dr. King’s Unfinished Agenda: A Teach-In for Rededicating Ourselves to the Dream,” to be held August 21-23 at Montreat.
Richard DuBose, president of Montreat, and Paul Roberts, president of Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, recently talked with the Outlook about the 50th anniversary conference.
During planning meetings, Roberts, who is convener for the conference, remembers the committee wondering about King’s “unfinished agenda.” He said committee members recognized a gap between what King envisioned “and where we currently are.” As they planned, they hoped the conference would inspire people to “get to work” and to equip people who have a passion for the work of racial reconciliation, but who may not have the tools or support mechanisms to engage with current efforts, Roberts said.
DuBose and Roberts expect a wide range of participants including pastors, students from nearby colleges and grandparents attending with their grandchildren.
Roberts says he’s excited about it being an intergenerational event – a time where families will engage with ideas, worship and serve together. He said: “Young people get snippets of history, but have no idea what it took for people that generation – the 1960s – to actually go to a lunch counter and sit there when they weren’t wanted.” If this event doesn’t spark activism, Roberts continued, he believes it will provide younger people a personal glimpse of what it means to stand up for one’s beliefs.
DuBose said the church plays a vital role in the wider conversation society is having about race. He hopes the conference will be a platform to discuss the ways the church can be involved in abolishing racism while also speaking honestly about the ways it has played a role in perpetuating it.
While DuBose says the conference won’t answer all of the complex questions that will be raised, he hopes it will help participants take the first steps to reframing the conversation “into one of abundance, rather than winners and losers.”
Preachers and keynote speakers will include:
- John Lewis, congressman from Georgia and civil rights leader;
- Vashti McKenzie, the first woman elected bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church;
- Tony McNeill, director of worship and arts at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta;
- Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
The conference will also have a youth track for families attending together. There will not be live streaming, so follow the Outlook on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for updates during the conference.