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King’s message must be heard today, civil rights leader says

"At the heart of King's message was, 'You are somebody, you are not a nothing,'" says the Rev. James Lawson. A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert.

By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Jan. 12, 2007 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

Members of the United Methodist Publishing House join hands while singing "We Shall Overcome" at the conclusion of the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration. A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert.

A civil rights leader told a gathering that racism, sexism, violence and greed have wounded the world and people still need to hear Martin Luther King Jr.'s words: "You are somebody."

"At the heart of King's message was, 'You are somebody; you are not a nothing,'" said the Rev. James Lawson, a friend of King's, civil rights justice leader and visiting professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Lawson, a United Methodist, was the keynote speaker at the United Methodist Publishing House's celebration honoring King on Jan. 11.

"In Matthew 5 Jesus says to a huge crowd of people, 'You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world.' Why don't we hear that message today when so many are despairing?"

Lawson added, "King's message wasn't just for people of color but for the whole world."

Taking to the streets

The Rev. Becca Stevens leads a roundtable discussion during a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration at the United Methodist Publishing House. A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert.

Before the worship service, members of local United Methodist churches, other agencies of the church as well as employees of the Publishing House took part in a roundtable discussion on "Unfinished Business: Experiencing God's Grace," led by the Rev. Becca Stevens, priest at St. Augustine's Episcopal Chapel at Vanderbilt University.

Stevens founded Magdalene House, a two-year residential community designed to rehabilitate women with a criminal history of drug abuse and prostitution. In 2001, Magdalene House launched Thistle Farms, a cottage industry that manufactures bath and body care products that promote healing and health, to provide training and revenue for the participants.

In a time when more troops are being sent to the Iraq war and Nashville is full of homelessness, racism and other problems, Stevens asked the group, "How do you decide what you are going to do? What takes you to the streets?"

Lawson noted in his sermon that he heard a lot of confusion and despair during the roundtable discussion.

"There is no reason for despair or confusion," he said. "You are the crowning achievement of God's creation."

Publishing House’s role

Lawson began by saying the last time he was at the Publishing House was in 1968, when he was part of a group picketing outside in protest of segregation.

"It is very important for the people at the Publishing House to be thinking, reading and talking to each other," he said.


The Rev. Fred Allen, executive director of African American Initiatives and International Outreach at the United Methodist Publishing House, takes part in a roundtable discussion as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration. A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert.

He added he has sometimes been frustrated with literature coming out of the Publishing House because "it always hedged on the issues of the gospel of Jesus and racism. ... It constantly translated the Scriptures as though there was another side on the issues of racism, sexism. "

"Sisters and brothers, we have no option according to the Scriptures concerning how we treat one another," he said. "Moses and Jesus, both Jewish prophets and teachers, are quite clear you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul and strength and your neighbor as yourself."

The Rev. Fred Allen, executive director of African American Initiatives and International Outreach at the Publishing House, said he heard Lawson's words as a challenge to the Publishing House to be more sensitive, "to stay on course and be intentional and bold."

"The United Methodist Publishing House Martin Luther King Jr. Dialogue and Worship Service provided the audience with a fresh vision and challenge about the church's call for taking a posture of interacting with the community in which it exists," Allen said.

"The church is called upon to use its power in direct opposition to those negative elements of the principalities and powers which deny the dignity of the human creature," he said.

"We are honored by every soul gathered here today to say that as a community it matters what we pray about, what we reflect on (and) how we honor God together in our lives," said Neil M. Alexander, publisher and chief executive officer.

Lawson concluded his sermon by encouraging his listeners. "Celebrate this weekend with the notion that there is marvelous work for each of us to do as we move past our reservations and fears. We can be surprised by what God is yet doing today."

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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Magdalene House

United Methodist Publishing House

Walking with King

Civil Rights

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