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"The Task of Christian Leadership Training for Education in the Local Community"

King, Martin Luther, Jr.
June 28, 1955 to July 3, 1955
Martin Luther King, Jr. - Career in Ministry
Martin Luther King, Jr. - Political and Social Views


King traveled to Atlantic City on 28 June to attend the National Sunday School and Baptist Training Union Congress.1 The subject matter of the following undated, typed manuscript indicates that it may have served as the basis for an address at the conference. King lays out three primary challenges facing local communities: economics, religious sectarianism, and race. He criticizes “the attempt on the part of Negroes to build up a class system within the bounds of the Negro race.” King calls for leaders who are open-minded and intelligent to address spiritual and physical needs and to exhibit moral authority.

About two weeks ago, a little more than five hundred Negro young men and women graduated from the six institutions of higher learning in my home City, Atlanta, Georgia.2 In that City a little more than six hundred boys and girls received high school diplomas. I am all but sure that this same thing happened in numerous other communities of our nation.

Does this mean anything to you as ministers, as laymen, as leaders, as potential leaders, and as followers of Christ? Does it mean something worth while and far reaching to you or does it impress you as merely another phenomenon taking place in this moving world of activity? Does it mean that you will go out with a rebellious air saying that education is harmful or does it mean that or does it mean that you will attempt to synthesize education and religion, realizing that the problems of the local community are so gigantic in extent and chaotic in detail that it will take a good dose of education mixed with a good dose of religion to solve them.

Before discussing the task of Christian leaders for education in the local community, let us define the community and set forth some of the pressing problems that are present within the local community.

By community is meant a given territory within which people live together, sharing daily [common?] life. They possess a common language, means of transportation, a web of custom, folklore and tradition, and a marked degree of social coherence. Now what are some of the problems that we are faced with in every community? I might say while passing that the problems of the local community are reflexions of the problem of the world community. So that each of these problems that will be discussed as characteristic of the local community are also characteristic of the world community on a larger scale.

First, we are faced with that glaring economic problim. It radiates in our communities like the rays of the beaming sun. In every community people are hungry, unemployment is rising like a tidal wave, housing conditions are embarrassingly poor, crime and juvinile delinquency are spreading like the dew drops on an early fall morning. All of these conditions result from the economic problem. Moreover, the economic problem has brought about one of the major conflicts of our time, the conflict between capital and labor. This internal war between labor and capital is a basic problem within every community.

I would not be so naive as to say, as the communist do, that if we solve the economic problem all problems will be solved. But we will have to admit with the communist that the economic problem is a major problem. Too often have we in America taken necessities from the masses to give luxeries to the classes. Have we been all together fair to the laboring man, that man who has to work sometimes until his hands are all but porched and his eyebrows all but scorched. Our failure to give the laboring man a fair break is the very reason why capitalism is her death bed in America.

There is a second problem which each community is faced with, namely, the religious problem. It expresses itself in the narrow sectarianism which is so rampant. The dissention between the denominations of the Protestant church, some two hundred fifty or more is quite appalling. Many of these various denominations stand out with an authoritative voice saying, “we are right and everybody else is wrong.” Every minister is aware of the problem in the local community. This Civil War within the Protestant Faith makes the larger conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism much more extensive.

There is a third problem present within each of our communities which is so ostensible that it hardly needs explaination, namely, the race problem. It is this problem that threatens the well-being of Christianity as an influential power in world affairs. In practically every community men of color are being still being surpressed economically, politically and socially. We continue to recite our democratic creeds but fail to practice them in deeds.

This race problem has brought about another problem which is just as anti-Christian as its source, namely, the attempt on the part of Negroes to build up a class system within the bounds of the Negro race. This has lead many Negroes who have had educational and economical advantages to exploit and even discriminate the Negroes who have not had these advantages. We the oppressed, instead of profiting by the mistakes of the oppressors, have fallen victims of the philosophy of the oppressors. This practice is deep within the fiber of the local community and its advocators are increasing daily. This brings us next to the question of the task of Christian Leaders for Education in the local community. In other words, what type of leaders are needed to face these perplexing problems which are found in the local community? In the face of these problems what type of leaders are needed to put over a worthwhile educational program in the community?

First, every Christian leader has the task of being open-minded. Have not our Christian leaders too often been advocators of narrow sectarianism? Have not our educational programs in the community been to Baptist, to Methodist, Presbyterian, and not to Christian. Has not this internal war between the diverse denomination caused a lapse in community progress. Christian leaders must come to see that problems of the local community are so intricite that it will take the united effort of all denominations to solve them. Christian leaders must come to see that God is not a denominational God, and that in the final analysis we are all in the same boat. Although we differ in minute detail, such as ritual and minor doctrine, we should be working forward to the coming of God's Kingdom in earth. This plea for ecumenical minded leaders cannot be exaggerated, for everywhere one turns he sees narrow minded leaders.

A second task facing Christian leaders is that of being intelligent. By intelligence I mean the ability to keep abreast with the problems of a changing culture. This demand for intelligence is somewhat inevitable, for how can we interpret the situation in the community without a knowledge of them. It is the job of every leader to keep up with the changing trends through intellectual discipline. I realize that there are many who would agree that the Christian leader only has the job of being sincere and pious, but sincerity and piety are not enough, as important as they are. We must remember that the same Jesus that said love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and soul also said love God with all thy mind.3 Some of the most crucial periods in history have been those periods when we loved God with our hearts and souls and failed to love him with our minds.

The third specific task of the Christian leader is that he must deal with people as whole beings, not as fragments. He must not see individuals as “souls” divorced from the material secular bodies. He must come to see that man is a Psyco-Physical being, and that his body is as important as his soul. Somehow we must come to see that Christianity is a two way road. On the one hand, we must attempt to chang men's souls so that society will be changed. On the other hand, we must attempt to change society so that the soul will have a chance. How can we be concerned with the souls of men and not be concerned with the conditions that damn their souls. How can we be concerned with men being true and honest and not concerned with the economic conditions that made them dishonest and the social conditions that make them untrue.4 Too often do we become so absorbed in a future good “over yonder” that we forget the present evil over here.

Finally, the Christian leader must be consecrated. There is a dire need for leaders who have been touched by the hand of the Divine. Too many leaders make religion only a one day affair, something that they put on Sunday morning and hang up in the closet on Sunday night. Too many leaders have only been innoculated with a mild form of Christianity. We stand today in dire need of a moral voice able to call forth all its powers. The weakness of leaders today is that they exercise no moral authority. They are picking around the surface of our really vital problems. We need leaders today who are able to convince the secular world that we are engaged in the most dangerous, the most daring and at the same time the most necessary business on earth, that of saving men from moral bankruptcy. What we need today is more spiritual engineers to guide this train of religion. When our leaders will have reached this point we will sail safely into the harbor of God's Kingdom. This is our overwhelming responsibility and our profound challenge.

1. In a letter written 28 June 1955, King indicated he was departing for the convention (see King to Benjamin Elijah Mays, 28 June 1955, in Papers 2:562-563). The National Sunday School and Baptist Training Union Congress was a division of the National Baptist Convention.

2. King most likely refers to Atlanta University, Clark College, Morehouse College, Morris Brown College, Spelman College, and Gammon Theological Seminary, all historically black institutions in Atlanta during the 1950s.

3. Cf. Matthew 22:37.

4. Fosdick, The Hope of the World, p. 25: “I plead instead for a church that shall be a fountainhead of a better social order. Any church that pretends to care for the souls of people but is not interested in the slums that damn them, the city government that corrupts them, the economic order that cripples them, and international relations that, leading to peace or war, determine the spiritual destiny of innumerable souls—that kind of church, I think, would hear again the Master's withering words: ‘Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!’”


CSKC-INP, Coretta Scott King Collection, In Private Hands: Sermon file, folder 36, “Sermon notes.”