Letters and Papers from Montgomery, Alabama: The Formation of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Theological Imagination

Posted on November 19, 2021 by PLT Staff

Lecture given by Charles Marsh at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA (November 3, 2021). Marsh demonstrates the tensions between trying to understand Martin Luther King, Jr. as theologian and how the documentary evidence illuminates that for King, the political was always understood primarily through the lens of the theological. Marsh then uses the Montgomery bus boycott as a case study in lived theology as well as a historical moment that represents an awakening of the Civil Rights Movement in the American South. By analyzing King’s April 4, 1967 sermon at Riverside Church in New York City, Marsh concludes that King’s vision of beloved community was more than just a theological manifestation of political statements and that political milestones, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, actually strengthened the theological case of the “confluence of optimisms.” To find a listing of all our Occasional Lectures, click here.

Excerpt: “It’s still incumbent upon you to understand the theological details and inner logic of the civil rights church, of the beloved community as it’s taking form in these particular campaigns and as it’s being imagined as something altogether different than a hope in the inherent promises of the American project. And it would be better to say, I think, that for King…that the expectation in the political order were always animated by fundamental theological convictions, and even in those years of great optimism and a sense of synergistic achievements of the movement’s spiritual vision and the federal government’s ability to respond and deliver the goods, the perception remained among the Black church people that the God who has borne the sins of the world on Calvary…is the God who is at work in this movement, on the streets of Montgomery, in the nation, and in the world.”

  • Video Information
  • Date Recorded:November 3, 2021
  • Location Recorded:Charlottesville, VA
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