King commemorated on eve of 40th anniversary of assassination

April 4, 2008

Pacific School of Religion commemorated the life and teaching of Martin Luther King, Jr. on Thursday, April 3, the eve of the 40th anniversary of his assassination. Projected historical images and artwork of Dr. King stood watch over the Chapel of the Great Commission as candles lit around the chapel burned in vigil. The congregation celebrated King’s legacy through poetry, congregational song, and instrumental music, and viewed a film clip of King’s “mountaintop” speech, given 40 years ago on the same date as the service, the night before his death.

After GTU student Rev. Monica Quick offered a stirring a capella rendition of “If I Can Help Somebody,” GTU doctoral student Rev. Dante Quick offered the sermon.

Comparing the commemoration of King’s death to the recent events of Good Friday and Easter, Quick said, “Why would we celebrate unless we thought there was an Easter Sunday for Martin? He died but what do we celebrate?”

Quick cited the high incidence of imprisonment of black men in America because of the structure of drug laws, high rates of injury and death from firearms for African Americans, fewer opportunities for education for the African American community, and asked, “What do we celebrate?”

Citing the tendency of mainstream culture to lionize King’s achievements without recognizing his prophetic message, Quick stated, “We like to remember the Martin Luther King who was the lover of all America, but when this prince of the pulpit died, he was hated.”

Quick mentioned the recent controversy over Senator Barack Obama’s former pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright and criticisms of black liberation theology as examples of American society’s discomfort with black religious leaders who have continued King’s prophetic legacy. Quick reminded the congregation that African American theology was a tradition as old as the country itself, and had always received the same reaction of controversy and consternation from the American public.

Rising to a fiery finish, with applause and amens from the assembled church, Quick exhorted the congregation to continue the work of challenging inequality and injustice in all issues of race, class, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and immigrant status.

Quick urged the congregation to be ‘fools’ in the biblical sense, invoking the prophet Jeremiah who could not stop preaching the truth despite being mocked and imprisoned, and the apostle Paul, who wrote, “If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” (1 Corinthians 3:18,19).

The service closed with the congregation joining hands and singing the civil rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome.”

The service was part of a continuing effort at Pacific School of Religion to address racial inequality, which will include more events in the month of April for “Advancing Racial Justice Month.” The service was sponsored by PSR’s Dismantling Racism Committee, PSR’s Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry, PANA Institute, the GTU Black Seminarians, and GTU Seminaristas.