Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is often remembered for his nonviolent fight for civil rights and his moving calls for justice. And as a reverend, the Atlanta native also called on congregations nationwide to take on the same fights when he echoed his views from church pulpits.
“A lot of the movements grew out of the church,” especially in the American South according to the Rev. Theresa S. Thames, D. Min., who is the associate dean of religious life and the chapel at Princeton University. The black church, in particular, was vital in the fight for social justice and the importance of its role became even more solidified during the 1950s and ’60s. The religious institution currently, however, faces a major problem.
“I do believe that the black church will continue to struggle if there isn’t this wrestling with how to realize all of the ways that blackness shows up in theological and holy spaces,” said the Rev. Thames in reference to those who may feel marginalized and excluded from the church, including members of the LGBTQIA community and women.
Despite the black church remaining a male-dominated space, Thames said women have always been the foot soldiers of the church—from the people in the pews to running Sunday school and cooking post-service meals in the back.
On Atlanta’s Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, another reverend is changing the common perception of what clergy members look like and how they uphold the principals of Dr. King’s legacy.
“We have a responsibility in every day and age to fight for the marginalized, to speak for those who are voiceless,” said the Rev. Lisa Allen-McLaurin, Ph.D., of West Mitchell Street CME Church. And Rev. Allen-McLaurin admits that it’s not going to just happen without action.
“We have to be intentional about doing the work.”
And community organizer Ericka Claudio is doing exactly that. The 25-year-old Atlanta-based activist and political strategist grew up in church, and says her activism and beliefs are inseparable. She’s also aware that that’s not always the case with all believers.
“I’m actually quite disappointed in the number of churches that have not spoken up and defended human beings, God’s children, that are being currently attacked and lacking rights and access and advocacy,” said Claudio.
“And that takes more than faith. That takes cultural and societal movements, and acceptance takes time,” she said.
Watch the third installment of A King’s Place above to learn about the black church’s commitment to social justice during the civil rights movement and how these women are pushing the needle forward by embodying Rev. King’s legacy by taking up his fight in and out of the sanctuary.