MLK50 conference set for anniversary date of King's death

Martin Luther King Jr. delivers what is now known as his 'I've Been to the Mountaintop' speech the night before he was assassinated in 1968 in Memphis. Screen capture from YouTube A racial unity conference on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. has been announced by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and The Gospel Coalition.

The event—"MLK50: Gospel Reflections From the Mountaintop"—will be held April 4, 2018, in Memphis, half a century to the date of King's slaying in the city. The event—announced at The Gospel Coalition's National Conference earlier this week—will focus on the status and pursuit of racial unity in the American church and culture.

The diverse lineup of speakers will include:

• Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).

• H.B. Charles, pastor-teacher of Shiloh Church in Jacksonville and Orange Park.

• John Piper, founder and teacher of Desiring God.

• Benjamin Watson, tight end for the Baltimore Ravens of the National Football League.

• Don Carson, TGC co-founder and research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS).

• Crawford Loritts, senior pastor of Fellowship Bible Church in Roswell, Ga.

• Matt Chandler, lead teaching pastor of The Village Church in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and president of the Acts 29 Network.

• Jackie Hill Perry, poet, rapper and speaker.

• Eric Mason, lead pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia.

"The legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. should remind us of what can happen when one speaks to the conscience of the culture and to the conscience of the church," Moore said in a news release announcing the event. "Fifty years after Dr. King's assassination, it is shameful that the church often lags behind the culture around us when it comes to issues of racial justice, unity and reconciliation. We should be leading the way."

Moore said: "The Gospel that reconciles the sons of slaveholders with the sons of slaves ... is a Gospel that reclaims the dignity of humanity and the lordship of God. It is this Gospel that Dr. King appealed to, and it is this gospel that belongs to the church as much right now as it ever has. My eager prayer for this event is that it will bring a word of Gospel hope, repentance and unity to many brothers and sisters in Christ."

In an interview with Baptist Press, Loritts recalled the devastation and uncertainty he felt as an 18-year-old African-American when King was assassinated. Having a Gospel-focused conference on the 50th anniversary is "hugely significant," he said.

"It's happening at a very strategic time in our country, where issues of race and division and the need for unity are front and center again," Loritts said. "I think that in the providence of God this celebration, this looking back and commemoration of this extraordinary life that God used could be a step toward healing, a step toward revisiting those issues, taking a look at where we are today, how far we have come, the need that we have to go even further."

Loritts hopes evangelicals "will pray that God will use this event to bring healing and wholeness, also an environment in which the Gospel can be heard clearly with great integrity."

"[M]y greatest hope is that the church of Jesus Christ will begin modeling the desired destination at which the culture needs to arrive," he said, "and we have a lot of work to do."

Also convening the conference with the ERLC and TGC is an advisory board of Christian leaders, including Steve Gaines, Southern Baptist Convention president and senior pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis; Byron Day, president of the National African-American Fellowship of the SBC; Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Jemar Tisby, co-founder and president of the Reformed African-American Network; David Dockery, TEDS president; Justin Giboney, co-founder of The AND Campaign; Ray Ortlund, lead pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville; Dhati Lewis, lead pastor of Blueprint Church in Atlanta; Carl and Karen Ellis, co-founders of The Makazi Institute; Felix Cabrera, senior pastor of Iglesia Bautista Central in Oklahoma City; Kevin Smith, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware; and A.B. Vines, senior pastor of New Seasons Church in San Diego County, Calif.

King, only 39 at the time of his death, led the civil rights movement from his time as pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., in the mid-1950s until his assassination in 1968. He led the movement to practice nonviolence in its pursuit of change, helping produce the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In Memphis to advocate for sanitation workers on strike, King gave what became known as his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech the night before he was killed.

"MLK50" will be held from 1-9 p.m. next April 4 at the Memphis Convention Center.

Registration and other information on the event is available at http://mlk50conference.com.

Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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