University Commemorates Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Willie Jennings
Rev. Dr. Willie Jennings, associate professor at Duke University, spoke during Monday's worship service.

Rev. Dr. Willie Jennings asserted that living in King's legacy means to unmask and speak truth to power

CHICAGO (January 21, 2014) — Rev. Dr. Willie Jennings, associate professor of theology and black church studies at Duke Divinity School, told an audience in Anderson Chapel on Monday that the world is in desperate need of religious and Christian intellectuals.

“By definition a Christian intellectual is an activist intellectual,” Dr. Jennings said. “It is a person who has the courage to unmask and speak truth to power. Our goal is to change the world because we serve a God who has changed it.”

Dr. Jennings’ message was part of North Park University’s annual worship and service day celebrating the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Jennings admonished the smoothed and polished symbol of Dr. King etched into stone monuments, and told the audience to reclaim the legacy of a man rooted as a “black Baptist preacher of the Church and of the South” who “carved his voice out of suffering and out of pain.”

“If the civil rights movement taught us anything,” Dr. Jennings added, “it is that fear normalizes oppression. It normalizes the absurd. And right now in this country we are normalizing the absurd.” Citing issues of racial injustice, economic disparity, and health deprivation, Dr. Jennings said he can no longer ignore that this country from its founding has been addicted to greed and violence. The only question that remains is whether we are going to challenge that addiction.

A number of voices reflected on Dr. King’s message of justice during Monday’s service, from the North Park Seminary Gospel Choir to a group of young people from Second Baptist Church and Beth Emet The Free Synagogue in Evanston. That group recently journeyed on Sankofa together, a six-day trip to major Civil Rights sites in the south, reflecting on issues of race and privilege. During Monday’s service the group related their journey to the call of Isaiah 58 to “loose the bonds of injustice.”

Other faculty, students, and area community members shared reflections on what Dr. King means for their vision of justice, including Randa Kuzies, a Muslim leader from Interfaith Youth Core. She shared excerpts from Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” emphasizing that time is neutral, and can be used either constructively or destructively.

Later Monday afternoon, Dr. Daniel White Hodge, director of the Center for Youth Ministry Studies and assistant professor of youth ministry at North Park, continued the discussion of what Dr. King’s legacy means today with an interfaith and intercultural discussion panel. Members of Interfaith Youth Core, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim leaders, along with area youth discussed issues of race, religion, and gender.

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