I’m thankful for 8th Street Community Church, where we are reading portions of the Letter from Birmingham Jail every Sunday morning during the month of February. We will not be skipping the inconvenient parts.
Is there space in your church to think about and be influenced by prophetic black Christianity? Would it be too controversial?
It is normal for Christians to admire Dr. King from afar as a vaguely Christian figure who preached love and tolerance. It is harder and more necessary to grapple with King as a serious Christian thinker who speaks to our time and critiques our theology.
The Letter from Birmingham Jail is far from a complete record of King’s thought, but it’s a great introduction to it, especially for Christian audiences. One of my dreams is for more white evangelical churches to make space for these ideas. If your church would like to have an event in the Philadelphia area, I am available to facilitate reading and discussion of the letter. I’ve got lots of practice!
This Martin Luther King Day weekend, come out to Eastern State Penitentiary for reading and discussion of the Letter from Birmingham Jail, a defining document of the civil rights movement.
Readings will take place throughout the day Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. See the Eastern State site for details.
The great Dax Richardson will be voicing Dr. King. Temple’s Minju Bae and I will facilitate the discussions and provide historical context. Monday’s sessions will also feature readers from the community.
In past years, these readings and discussions have been powerful times of reflection and dialogue. I’ve been privileged to participate in this event during a whirlwind of change over the past few years. In 2015 and 2016, the black lives matter movement made the discussion of the letter feel extremely urgent. In 2017, after the election of Donald Trump and the palpable turn in the national mood away from attention to racial injustice, the letter took on a different hue. Who knows what this year will bring!
Whether you’re able to come to a reading or not, if you’ve never been to Eastern State, you should go! It is an astonishing historic site. In recent years Eastern State has won major national awards for its top-notch exhibits and programming. Their exhibit on mass incarceration is sobering and deeply relevant.
If you’re in the Philadelphia area and looking for something educational and meaningful to commemorate the Martin Luther King holiday, come to Eastern State Penitentiary for a reading and discussion of Dr. King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. There are readings of the letter all weekend, with the great Dax Richardson voicing Dr. King. Monday’s readings will also feature readers from the community. Minju Bae and I will facilitate the discussions.
In past years, these readings and discussions have been powerful times of reflection and dialogue. The letter still resonates today because it’s ultimately not about Dr. King. It’s a call to action. Over half a century after it was written, it still provokes.
Whether you’re able to come to a reading or not, if you’ve never been to Eastern State, you should go! It is an astonishing historic site. While you’re there, check out the wonderful and eye-opening new exhibit on mass incarceration. Seriously folks, this place is doing good work.