What Changed for Evangelicals When MLK Was Killed

This week, we are remembering the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.who was assassinated 50 years ago on April 4, 1968. Among the many events scheduled for this week, The Gospel Coalition and the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission are holding a summit in Memphis on racial unity. But finding evangelicals willing to align with the Civil Rights movement during the 1950s and 1960s was much more difficult. Reformed Theological Seminary professor Carl Ellis participated in the Civil Rights movement. But when he became a (Protestant) Christian through his relationships with several evangelical leaders, he quickly began to feel a tension between his newfound faith and his commitment to King’s cause. “That unspoken evangelical thing came upon me, ‘You should not be concerned about Civil Rights,’” said Ellis about the time after his conversion. “I never read any explicit stuff about it but just the sense that I got, it was part of the whole ethos of what it meant to be an evangelical back then.” That “ethos” and environment is what Michael Hammond, a dean at Taylor University’s School of Humanities, Arts, and Biblical Studies has studied. “When we talk about October of 1956, Rosa Parks was arrested in 1955 and that sets off a year-long bus boycott in Montgomery,” said Hammond. The Supreme Court ultimately issues a ruling banning segregation on public transportation in November 1956. “That’s a month after CT is first published,” said Hammond. “Imagine that ramp-up, if you can think of Christianity Today in 1955, 1956, these are issues that at the forefront of the American news.” In a special episode of Quick to Listen, Hammond shares about Christianity Today responded to MLK and the Civil Rights movement and Ellis talks about how his own experience of faith and activism in the 1950s and 1960s with associate digital media producer Morgan Lee and editorial director Ted Olsen.

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