Walking in Memphis

Eileen, Joshua, and I are attending “MLK50: Gospel Reflections from the Mountaintop” this week. The event is sponsored by the Gospel Coalition and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, for whom I am serving on the Leadership Council this year. Wednesday night at 6:01 we were at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, exactly fifty years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., at the site which is now enshrined as a national monument to civil rights. The bells were tolled as complete silence fell over the large, multiethnic crowd.

To say that this has been a “heavy” week would be the understatement of the day. To take up the subject of racial reconciliation and social justice is never an easy task, but it’s especially daunting when our culture seems so divided along racial and political lines. Anger is everywhere. The church does not speak with a unified voice when it comes to the issues of the day. In fact, evangelical Christians in America are perhaps more divided now than ever. Many older Christ followers align themselves with conservative candidates and causes, while many younger evangelicals expressly repudiate the alliances of their parents’ generation. It’s a perfect recipe for misunderstanding, labeling, and conflict in the church.

I’m going to be honest with you: some things I’ve heard this week have perturbed me, while others have thrilled my heart. Many of our social ills are, in my humble opinion, complex and multi-dimensional by nature. I now have to sit before the Lord with my Bible open, as well as my heart, if I am to process and apply Christ’s gospel in a way that is honoring to Him. When it comes to any prejudice or racism in my own heart or behavior, I want to see it for what it is, and repent.

It just so happens that I am reading through Nehemiah in my daily devotions. Last night I was struck by Nehemiah’s responsibility to do his part to repair damaged race relations in his own day. The wall and the city could not be repaired until the underlying moral foundations were steadied and secured. Repentance preceded rebuilding. I see similar themes in Acts in the early church. As a pastor, I want to do this well. First Baptist Paducah, in many ways, must set the peacemaking standard for our city. No other congregation has the history, the location, the influence, and the resources to exert the kingdom impact with which God has afforded us. Let’s do it right! Our community is watching and waiting.

Dr. King was not a perfect man. He never pretended to be. But he did some things exceptionally well. He taught people the difference between just and unjust laws. By so doing, he taught us that there really is a moral law given by God. That might not seem like a big deal to you, but I would submit that what is most responsible for our contemporary cultural confusion and chaos is the absence of an accepted moral authority.

Most of all, Martin Luther King, Jr. knew the power of love. He knew that grace, not hate, was the way of Christ. It still is. Even in the face of the worst manifestations of evil, love is still the answer. Despite our best efforts, we will never reach complete agreement in regard to identifying political problems and formulating political solutions. And sometimes I’m surprised by the impatience and anger which can erupt in me when I perceive that others don’t interpret “politics” or “worldview” or “justice” as my categories demand. So, for Dr. King’s legacy of longsuffering love, I give God thanks and praise.

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb …”

It’s not just a dream. It’s as good as done.


Pastor Charles

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6 comments on “Walking in Memphis
  1. Shannon Stivers says:

    Thanks for sharing! Thought about you all this week, can’t wait to hear all about it!

  2. Bobby Miller says:

    Well said!

  3. Raymond Beverly says:

    Pastor: You indicated that you are studying the Book of Nehemiah-In regard to interracial marriage and interracial relations I have always considered the Post-Exile prophets remarkably intolerant. Ezra and Nehemiah were forcing families apart and actually physically assaulted some of the people of Judah who had married foreign women. (Nehemiah Chapter 13). This is not in keeping with a spirit of universality. I have always recalled that Ruth-a Moabite woman mind you- was an earthly ancestor of King David and of Christ himself. I find the abuses by Nehemiah quite abhorrent.

  4. Janice says:

    We were living in Memphis at that time. I’ll never forget that night-Memphis was a peaceful, beautiful place to live until that night. We were watching the news right after dinner when the anchor delivered the shocking news. We were stunned as was the rest of Memphis and the nation. Soon, pandemonium erupted from justifiable anger. Anger and frustration manifested itself in riots with sirens blasting all night long. Curfews were imposed, everything was closed down, businesses, schools for the next week. We were able to slip through the curfew security in the early morning hours and got out of Dodge and headed to a safe haven Paducah. Memphis was never the same after that.

  5. Louella7639@gmail.com says:

    I lived in Memphis from the time I was a baby until I was 21 years old. We were there that night we had just come in from Paducah to celebrate the holiday. Cannot put in words the feelings felt when that was announced. My thoughts on this, the hardest thing for our Christian spirits and wanting to serve our Lord and Savior, understanding why he allows evil in this world to persist and happen. When we know him is the God of love . And of course we recall Joseph and his words, they mint it for evil God meant it for good. However somewhere along the way we forgot to remember the goodness that doctor King wanted to bring everyone together didn’t matter what the color of your skin or race together to know the love and peace and treatment entitled only provided by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. S i n does not exist in the color of our skin but in the color of our hearts. And sadly some still want to fight the battle.

  6. Bill Temple says:

    Thanks again for the update Charles I agree with your specifics on what’s needed in the body of Christ today yes the church is divided …outside and inside..l also pray with you to allow us to to extend Grace and wisdom to those who disagree with us for the purpose of reaching them for Christ and strengthening the body to accomplish what God intends for us.

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