By Christopher Young,
Second Baptist Church at 441 Monroe Street in Detroit is the oldest African-American congregation in Michigan, and some sources say in the Midwest. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1975, and Michigan Historic Sites since 1974. Their leaders worked with John Brown, Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglas ferrying fugitive slaves via the Underground Railroad to stop there, less than three miles from the Canadian border. By some reports, over 500 in a 30-year period.
Many notables have held membership at Second Baptist Church, including Dr. Ralph Bunche who became the first African American to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950. He was born in Detroit in 1904 and was baptized there. Another luminary, who would receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, visited Second Baptist Church to deliver a sermon entitled “Rediscovering Lost Values” on February 28, 1954. His name was Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
Evoking the story of a twelve-year-old Jesus being left behind in Jerusalem (Luke 2:41), King laid the foundation of his sermon, “And so that was the thing that Jesus’ parents realized, that, that they had to go back and find this mighty precious value that they had left behind, in order to go forward. They realized that. And so they went back to Jerusalem and discovered Jesus, rediscovered him so to speak, in order to go forward to Nazareth.”
Sixty-nine years later we are surrounded by examples of leaving precious values behind. In many instances suffocated by our own self-serving interests while trying to move forward, shackled by what we have failed to bring with us from the past – precious values of who and what we truly are.
We watch as our own youth kill one another, having somehow lost their sense of certainty of the love and support of family. Why do you feel you are on your own? How are you allowed by your family to feel you are on your own? Have the dog-eat-dog pressures and stresses of moving forward in today’s society caused parents to loosen their values and dedications to ensuring their lambs make it from cradle to independence insulated from the wolves of the world?
We watch as our babies have babies. Did we forget that we cannot leave our precious values behind? Each phase of our human development is essential and adolescence, a well-established period of identity crisis, requires guidance and nurturing to successfully navigate. Rather than surrender parental control because it is so hard, we must double-down with love – we must halt the forward movement and return to our true roles and values, in King’s words from 1954, “all reality hinges on moral foundations.”
We watch as legislators here allow the largest city in Mississippi, and with the highest population of African Americans, be methodically starved of the resources to provide clean safe water to fellow citizens. Shameless oppression, diametrically opposed to the teachings of Christ, by those who have bartered their values for a sense of superiority. Precious values abandoned, and some even claiming sadness that this state is viewed nationally as so backward rather than use their strengths to apply corrective values.
King pressed on in 1954 at Second Baptist Church, “But I’m here to say to you this morning that some things are right and some things are wrong. Eternally so, absolutely so. It’s wrong to hate. It always has been wrong and it always will be wrong. It’s wrong in America, it’s wrong in Germany, it’s wrong in Russia, it’s wrong in China. It was wrong in two thousand B.C., and it’s wrong in nineteen fifty-four A.D. It always has been wrong, and it always will be wrong.”
Tragically, Dr. King’s sermon is lost here in Mississippi, despite it coming from the Gospel. It will take divine intervention and friends of righteousness finding their voice, to bring about change. A voice to go back to our basic values. A voice to address poverty and child poverty in the poorest state in the land. A voice to cease the inherent discrimination at the core of private school funding at the expense of our public schools. A voice to hold those accountable for boldly stealing millions intended for the least of these, leading straight to the Governor’s mansion. A voice that no longer tolerates politics that facilitate the deaths of new mothers simply because they are poor and cannot afford insurance. A voice of the currently silent to shift the trajectory of this state from one of godless behavior to one of godly behavior, having seen the vital importance of going back to reclaim core values in order to effectively move forward in and toward justice.
As we prepare to celebrate the only non-president to have a National Holiday named in his honor, take one hour with your family and friends to read or listen to Dr. King’s sermon at Second Baptist Church, and decide which values you may have let slip away and resolve to go back and reclaim them.
The full text of the sermon can be found at The Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project at www.stanford.edu or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCyNCUSiWi4.