The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would be happy with the way The United Methodist Church is celebrating his legacy by honoring veterans, said retired Bishop Melvin G. Talbert, a friend of the civil rights giant.
Honoring veterans is the focus of America's Sunday Supper, slated for Jan. 20. Inspired by King's legacy, America's Sunday Supper invites people from diverse backgrounds to come together to share a meal, discuss issues that affect their community and highlight the power each one of us has to make a difference.
Rethink Church, part of United Methodist Communications, is lining up 250 volunteer leaders to coordinate events and 6,500 volunteers to participate in a variety of outreach opportunities on Jan 20.
"It takes more than just words. It takes actions. And what this strategy does, it invites people to act on what they believe, to act on their faith," Talbert said.
Talbert said it is right and just for the church and the nation to focus on the contributions and needs of veterans and their families.
"The church has a witness to make in the face of what's going on now, and particularly in Afghanistan. I think we will all be happy when that situation has ended. But even as it ends, we must never take that out on the military personnel. They are doing no more than what the government is asking them to do. And we need to let them know that by saying it, by being in ministry to and with them, and supporting them and their families."
King taught his followers to separate the policymakers from those whom the state calls to implement the policy, Talbert added.
"When we were fighting Jim Crow laws, he helped us to understand that we must not be angry with the police. They were simply doing what the government asked them to do. And so, never take it out on them, but put your focus on the policy people who are the ones calling the shots and making a difference.
"And I would say the same is true for the military. We cannot take out our disdain for war on our sisters and brothers who are giving their lives in defense of the country. But if we don't like the war and the way that things are going, we need to focus our attention on the government. And I think that's the direction we need to go."
During the sit-in movement in Atlanta, Talbert said he made a commitment to non-violence and that commitment has been the backbone of his ministry.
Talbert served for 20 years as an active bishop - eight years in the Seattle area and 12 years in the San Francisco area. He has been retired for 12 years but stays busier than he did during his active ministry, he said.
"The difference now," he explained, "is that I'm focused in a way that I couldn't be when I was active because I had to do so many things."
Black History Month
As the nation prepares to observe Black History Month in February, Talbert said the annual observance is needed now more than ever after the latest elections.
"I never thought I would live to see again some of the downright racist responses people made to the political process and particularly regarding our president," he said. "I've never seen people be so disrespectful for the office of president in these United States.
"I think we are moving in the right direction but oh, ever so slowly."
King was not just concerned about civil rights for black people; he was concerned about the poor. At the end of his life, King was moving to make a difference in the lives of the poor. "We have not done well with that task," Talbert said.
"I think that Dr. King would look at where we are and say, 'It's almost like it was when I left.'"
*Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for the young adult content team at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or [email protected].