On Monday, January 21st, Covenant students were released from classes for a day to celebrate the life and legacy of civil rights activist, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This is the second annual celebration of Martin Luther King Day at Covenant College.
Students participated in MLK Day On 2019 by partnering with the City of Chattanooga in service projects and attending a lecture by Pastor Mika Edmondson followed by a panel with faculty and Pastor Kevin Smith. The day ended in a jazz celebration with the Covenant College Jazz Ensemble with James Ward.
For the service project this year, students assisted in clearing brush from Beck Knob Cemetery in Chattanooga to honor those buried there.
Anne Miller ‘21 said, “One impact of the service project was being connected with the city of Chattanooga because we were just a small part of the whole community and that made Covenant feel less isolated. It was cool to see how a whole city cares about MLK Day. It was especially cool because our service project had a bigger purpose that brought the MLK theme full circle after hearing about the cemetery’s history of being a burial ground for slaves and servants in the 1800s. Seeing the gravestones makes their history much more tangible.”
Hurst United Methodist Church is working to get the cemetary put on the historical register, and Covenant students helping to manicure the cemetery could aid in that.
At 2:00 p.m., Dr. Mika Edmondson gave a lecture titled “MLK, the Cross and Redemptive Suffering.” In his lecture, Dr. Edmondson highlighted the Gospel impact of Dr. King, exploring what he called narrow and broad views of the Gospel. In a narrow view of the Gospel, an individual focuses on how they have been justified by Christ alone, while a broad view of the Gospel focuses on “all God is doing through Christ to restore a broken and ruined world.”
In a speech at Grosse Point High School in 1968, Dr. King said, “We shall overcome because Carlisle is right. ‘No lie can live forever.’ We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant is right. ‘Truth crushed to earth will rise again.’”
Dr. Edmondson used this quote to encourage students that when evil and injustice seem overwhelming, they can be confident that Christ has already overcome.
Dr. Edmondson also referenced sorrow songs, African-American spirituals that influenced Dr. King and his faith. Dr. Edmondson said that pain is at the root of the black experience and that this pain fostered a 200 year legacy of hope in suffering that heavily influenced Dr. King.
“At the cross,” said Dr. Edmondson, “Jesus gave a pattern to engage in suffering to the glory of God.” Dr. King used the principle of redemptive suffering to ground the belief of nonviolent protest in freedom fighters, putting forward that, as Dr. Edmondson said, “God was with them and that they would overcome.”
The lecture concluded with Dr. Edmondson thanking the Lord that darkness is passing away and that the light of Christ is already shining.
Following the lecture, a panel including Dr. Edmondson, Dr. Amy Bagby, Dr. Elissa Weichbrodt, and Pastor Kevin Smith answered questions from students.
In response to a question from David Kraus ‘20 on how to respond to the opinion that social injustice is not a gospel issue, Dr. Edmondson remarked on Jesus’ inaugural sermon in Luke 4, where Jesus reads from the book of Isaiah.
Isaiah 61 says, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Dr. Edmondson said that Jesus intentionally made the announcement of his ministry to make justice part of the Gospel. He went on to further explain the cleansing of the temple, seeing Jesus removing the money changers as removing a segregated system that was dishonoring of the Gentiles.
Later, Grace Seto ‘21 asked about how, as a minority, to mourn with African-Americans. Dr. Weichbrodt answered that oppression is not an Olympics, but sometimes it can feel that as Asian-Americans, acknowledging the black experience is denying their own experience. Weichbrodt said, “God doesn’t have a pie of dignity, but it can be easy to feel overlooked.”
To close the panel, Pastor Kevin Smith said that loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself looks like letting God’s love captivate us. “It takes all of us and two genders to express Imago Dei.”
The evening ended with a jazz celebration in the Great Hall and a reading of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Dr. Bagby, a part of planning committee for MLK Day, said, “When asked during the panel discussion about the lasting legacy of Dr. King, Dr. Edmondson answered that his legacy was one of love. This is something we can really get behind. When the Pharisees asked Jesus about the greatest commandment in the law his answer was, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself’(Matthew 22:37-39). Celebrating MLK Day On at Covenant College is an opportunity for our campus to do just that.”
She continued, “The pastoral letter contained in Overture 55 of the 44th General Assembly provided shepherding leadership towards racial reconciliation exhorting us to: learn, pray, acknowledge, relate, and commit. The planning committee for MLK Day On at Covenant College employed this guidance in structuring activities. It is our hope that in celebrating the life and ministry of Dr. King we love our neighbors, both those on our campus as well as in the surrounding community.”