MARK E. RONDEAU
County News Editor
BENNINGTON -- One definition of theology is faith seeking understanding, and a book discussion that begins today will examine the development of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s faith and his understanding of what it required of him.
The Interfaith Council and the Peace and Justice Center are offering the three-week book study, exploring King's history and witness.
The study takes place on successive Tuesday evenings from Jan. 29 through Feb. 12, beginning at 6:30 p.m. The session this evening, "King before he became ‘King,'" will be held at Second Congregational Church, on Hillside Street, facilitated by the Rev. Jerrod Hugenot, coordinating minister at the First Baptist Church of Bennington.
Hugenot said he will introduce King as the son of two influential families in their milieu, looking at "where he came from and also look at his undergraduate studies." He will take the discussion up to the parts of King's life people remember best.
The text will be "Martin Luther King, Jr. for Armchair Theologians," by Rufus Burrow Jr., published by Westminster John Knox Press. It is part of a series of accessible books on great theologians, Hugenot said.
The book includes illustrations drawn in a cartoon-like style making direct and simple points.
"You don't have to have read the book to attend," Hugenot said, but organizers are eager for participants to have it available.
On Tuesday, Feb. 5, the session will focus on "King as a National Figure for Civil Rights," and will be held at First Baptist Church on Main Street, facilitated by the Rev. Mary Lee-Clark, pastor of Second Congregational Church, and Rabbi Jarah Greenfield, of Congregation Beth El.
"I'll introduce into the conversation Dr. King's cooperative efforts with Jewish civil rights leaders," Greenfield said. "We'll look at how the fight for justice was shared by Jewish and African American civil rights leaders for the justice of all people."
The third session, on Tuesday, Feb. 12, will look at "King in Review," focusing on "where he was prophetic and where he was silent." This session will be held at Congregation Beth El, facilitated by the Rev. Erica Baron, of the Bennington Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, and David O'Brien, of the Peace and Justice Center and a deacon at St. John the Baptist Church in North Bennington.
This session will look at the positive parts of King's legacy and then at the not-so-postive parts. The book "talks about areas he wasn't really as up on, like the feminist issues, addressing gay and lesbian liberation issues," Hugenot said.
"Martin Luther King, Jr. for Armchair Theologians" received a positive notice in the Rev. David J. Bort's Speaking of Religion column on Saturday. Bort is a retired area minister and member of the Interfaith Council.
Bort highlighted the chapter "Ideas from the Academy" in which Burrow writes "that while in high school King rejected the ministry. He had grown up with fundamentalist teachings and what he perceived as too much emotionalism in worship services. He wondered whether religion could be intellectually respectable as well as emotionally satisfying. When he came under the influence of President Mays and Professor Kelsey at Morehouse College, he saw ministry and the minister in a much favorable light.
"Kelsey challenged King to look behind the myths in the Bible stories to get at the deep abiding truths that many of them contained," Bort adds. "He was inspired by Kelsey's belief that modern times called for ministers who were well educated and committed to social Christianity. King was grateful to Kelsey for removing the shackles of fundamentalism from him -- Martin Luther King ‘accepted the call to ministry during his last year in college.'"
The next chapter examines King's pastorate in Montgomery, Ala., and the 1955 bus boycott that brought him to national prominence. The boycott was not originally King's plan and he had not been called to the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church to lead it. "Much groundbreaking work had been done in Montgomery's black community that prepared the way for King's leadership," Burrow writes.
Copies of the book are available from the offices of First Baptist and Second Congregational or from O'Brien, who is a trustee of the Peace and Justice Center. A limited number of low-cost copies are available on a first come, first served basis. All are welcome to attend each evening's conversation and at any one of the three sessions, if not all of them.
Contact Hugenot at First Baptist with any questions, 802-442-2105.