Commentary: An encounter with truth on MLK Day
Jan. 17, 2006
The Rev. Kenneth H. Carter Jr.
A UMNS Commentary
By the Rev. Kenneth H. Carter Jr.*
Three years ago, in January 2003, I was at the Scarritt-Bennett Center
in Nashville, Tenn., for a conference of United Methodist leaders. The
meeting would take place on the Monday on which the Rev. Martin Luther
King Jr. is remembered. For many people this was and is a holiday. I
arrived at the school late on Sunday evening; we would begin our work
the next day at noon. The dorms were plain, austere and cold!
The next morning, I woke up and made my way to the dining hall. A couple
there introduced themselves: James and Eunice Mathews. They asked me to
join them, and we shared breakfast together. I offered the blessing,
remembering especially on that day the life of Martin Luther King Jr.
The Mathews seemed vaguely familiar to me. He was a retired bishop, and
they were known for their commitment to missions (I note this now with
an honest embarrassment!). They shared some of their life together that
morning. Eunice was the daughter of E. Stanley Jones, who served in
India as a missionary/evangelist for 40 years and whose books were
translated into 18 languages, selling in the millions. James Mathews had
been elected a bishop in 1960, without his knowledge (he was in India
at the time) and apart from his ambition.
Eunice told me this story: When Martin Luther King Jr. was awarded the
Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, a reception was held for him at United
Methodist-related Boston University, where he had received his
doctorate. James Mathews was the bishop of Boston at the time, and he
and Eunice joined in the line of people to congratulate him.
When King met Eunice, he pointed his finger at her and said, “It was
your father’s biography of Gandhi that changed my life, and convinced me
of the necessity of nonviolence.”
In Jones’ biography of Mahatma Gandhi, the author noted that Gandhi
became convinced that nonviolence was a strategy not of the weak but of
the strong. In the margin of his copy, King had written, “This is it!”
James and Eunice Mathews gave me a copy of that biography, and I asked
them to sign it, which they did. They also underlined the sentence:
“Nonviolence is the method of the strong, and the only method of the
strong.” If you visit the King Center in Atlanta today, you can see his
copy of the biography of Gandhi, opened to page 88, with the words in
the margin, “This is it!”
Why did I meet James and Eunice Mathews that Monday morning? Why did we
have this conversation? Why did they tell me the story of the book? Why
did they give me a copy? Each year at about this time, I remember Martin
Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, E. Stanley Jones, and James and
Eunice Mathews. And then as I pray for strength and peace, I am drawn
once again to these questions, and to the truth of that single sentence
that so inspired a movement.
*Carter is senior pastor of Providence United Methodist Church in Charlotte, N.C., and book editor of Circuit Rider magazine, published by the United Methodist Publishing House.
News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.