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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Martin Luther King as Preacher

The New York Times reports on Jonathan Rieder's new book about Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
As America nears the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech in August, Dr. Rieder has become one of the most astute scholars of Dr. King as a preacher. In two consecutive books developed over nearly 20 years of research, Professor Rieder has immersed himself in the subject of Dr. King as a pulpit minister who shaped his theology in sermons delivered to black congregations.
The public Dr. King, Dr. Rieder argues, cannot be understood without understanding the preacher’s talking black talk to black folk. Dr. Rieder’s new book, “Gospel of Freedom,” traces the evolution of both the “I Have A Dream” speech and the “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” Dr. King’s most renowned written work, through years of his obscure sermons....
Dr. Rieder’s book stakes very specific turf in the corpus of King scholarship with its relentless focus on Dr. King the preacher. By doing so, as Mr. Forbes pointed out in his comments, Dr. Rieder is restoring the overtly religious element to Dr. King and the freedom movement. While African-Americans readily grasp the link, many white liberals diminish or ignore it out of discomfort with religion being granted a role — even a positive one — in political discourse.

“The image of liberal secular King misses the essential role of prophetic Christianity,” Dr. Rieder, a professor of sociology at Barnard College in New York, said in a recent interview. “Jesus wasn’t just an interesting historical figure to King. He saw Jesus as a continuation of the prophets. He has a powerful association with Jesus.”