King preaching. (Source:
King preaching. (Source:

Earlier this month Jake Meador wrote a great piece titled “The Invisible Anglicanism of C.S. Lewis” wherein he reminded readers that while many people claim Lewis now, it would be wrong to ignore that Lewis’ willingness to work within the Anglican tradition gave him the necessary framework to become the C.S. Lewis we know in retrospect. Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day here in the United States and Meador’s article has me thinking about Dr. King’s roots. Last night I attended an interfaith service with my wife at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church here in San Antonio, TX, in honor of Dr. King’s memory and vision. One of the participants made a statement that we must remember that Dr. King didn’t do his work independently, but that he stood on the shoulders of those who had come before him. Admittedly, I don’t know much about Dr. King’s background in that sense, but according to Jacqueline Trussell’s article “Standing On Big Shoulders: The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.”,

The African American Baptist church is a religious institution within the African American community that has produced leaders of national and international reputation. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a product of this denomination that had a history and legacy of giving leadership to the social, political, economic and spiritual development of African Americans.

Trussell goes on to unpack this claim in her article. This has me wondering if we’ve done the same thing to MLK that many do to C.S. Lewis: universalize him without acknowledging that the resources of a certain tradition made it possible for him to emerge as a great figure. In other words, MLK isn’t alone, but he is a product of the legacy of Black Baptists in the United States and the Black Church more broadly. If this is true, then part of remembering Dr. King may require investigating, to some degree, the message of the tradition that gave him to us all.

While Dr. King is a gift to the Black community, the people of the United States, all Christians of various denominational affiliations, people of other religious persuasions, and all those who seek to live in a world where “justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an overflowing stream” (Amos 5:24), we should be cautious about universalizing him to the point where we forget his roots and the tradition that equipped him to challenge the injustices around him.

Thoughts? Any resources you’d recommend for people to better understand Dr. King’s roots? What role do you think the Baptist tradition played in his formation? What about other traditions?