Martin Luther King Jr.

MLK Jr.: Epistles and Prophets

April 4th, 2018 marked 50 years since the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In observance of the deep and lasting impact of Dr. King’s ministry, Trinity created the video curriculum below for use by individuals or in group education settings.

The speaker series, “Three Epistles on Race in America,” explores contemporary black/white relationships using writings that, while perhaps lesser known than King’s famous “I have a dream” oratory, resonate powerfully today. The speakers are New York City journalist Errol Louis, New York University professor; poet Fred Moten; and Trinity’s Vicar, the Rev. Phil Jackson. Hear their challenging examinations of three civil-rights era letters from Dr. King, James, Baldwin, and Thomas Merton, and share them with friends in your community.

The interview segment features Trinity’s Director of Justice and Reconciliation, Winnie Varghese, in conversation with civil rights icon and public theologian Ruby Sales. Together, they explore King’s prophetic voice, and look for hope in history.

Need to download the segments? Use the down arrow icon in the upper right hand corner of the video window.

“Three Epistles on Race in America” Introduction by Phil Jackson


Errol Louis on King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail

Guided Questions
  • What were the ethical dimensions of Dr. King’s decision to recruit children to “Project Confrontation” in Birmingham, in light of the probability of violence?
  • Who are the “white moderates” in churches today who must be “called out?”
  • How has our “love of order” in churches made us bystanders in the past, or bystanders today?
  • In what ways is the Letter from Birmingham Jail written to us today?

Fred Moten on James Baldwin’s Letter from a Region in My Mind

Guided Questions
  • How do we go about “creating consciousness” in others?
  • Do you, or does your religious community, look at the world, look with the world, or both?
  • Moten uses the word “dominion,” which has strong Old Testament associations. What does dominion mean to you?
  • How does Moten define prophetic vision? Do you agree, and how would you define prophetic vision?

Phil Jackson on Thomas Merton’s Letters to a White Liberal

Guided Questions
  • What message are African-Americans giving white America today?
  • What does “true equality” in society mean to you as a person of faith?
  • How do you as an individual practice seeing Christ in everyone? How does your faith community?
  • Do you agree with Merton that the problem of race in America is spiritual, and not political?

Winnie Varghese interviews Ruby Sales

Guided Questions
  • How do you feel about what one priest refers to “Dream Fatigue” --- the emphasis in recent years on Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which makes people, especially white people, feel comfortable, and domesticates King’s overall call for radical change?
  • Ruby Sales talks about King’s critique of empire. How does it make you feel to hear the United States described as an empire?
  • Sales also says that Dr. King was well versed in “Black folk theology.” What are some of the ways white Christians can learn from the wisdom and experience of black Christians, and in what contexts can that happen?
  • A year before his death, Dr. King broke with President Lyndon Johnson and preached against the Vietnam War and against a U.S. history and policy based on racism, materialism, and militarism. In what ways, if any, are those factors still relevant in our common life, and what can churches do about it?

Participant Biographies

Phil Jackson is the Priest-in-charge of Trinity Church Wall Street, where he leads ministry programs that touch on every aspect of parish life, including liturgies, music, faith formation, the Trinity Preschool, and membership. He serves on the Board of Trustees of Amherst College, his alma mater, as well as the Downtown Alliance, Episcopal Charities, and the Seamen’s Church Institute. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in History from Amherst College, a J.D. from Yale Law School, and an M.Div. from Church Divinity School of the Pacific.

Errol Louis is a New York City journalist and the host of Inside City Hall, a program about New York City politics that airs nightly on NY1. Prior to joining NY1 in November 2010, Louis was a columnist for the New York Daily News, where he also served on the editorial board. On June 23, 2008, Louis became host of the Morning Show, a three-hour talk program on radio station WWRL; in 2009 he was succeeded by Mark Riley. Louis is the Director of the Urban Reporting program at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism. He is also a CNN contributor and has made frequent appearances on Lou Dobbs Tonight and other CNN news programs.

Fred Moten is author of In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical TraditionHughson’s TavernB Jenkins (Refiguring American Music)The Feel TrioThe Little EdgesThe Service Porch; and Black and Blur (consent not to be a single being). He is co-author, with Stefano Harney, of The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study and A Poetics of the Undercommons, and Who touched me? (with Wu Tsang). Moten lives in New York with his partner, Laura Harris, and their children, Lorenzo and Julian. He teaches in the Department of Performance Studies at New York University.

Ruby Sales is a highly-trained, experienced, and deeply committed social activist, scholar, administrator, manager, public theologian, and educator in the areas of civil, gender, and other human rights.

In August 1965, Sales, along with other SNCC workers, joined young people from Fort Deposit, Alabama, who organized a demonstration to protest the actions of the local White grocery store owners who had cheated their parents. The group was arrested and held in jail and then suddenly released. Jonathan Daniels, a White seminarian and freedom worker from Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts was assassinated as he pulled Sales out of the line of fire, when they attempted to enter Cash Grocery Store to buy sodas for other freedom workers who were released from jail.

Sales has preached around the country on race, class, gender, and reconciliation, and she has done ground-breaking work on community and non-violence formation. She also serves as a national convener of the Every Church A Peace Church movement.

Winnie Varghese is the Priest and Director of Justice and Reconciliation at Trinity Church Wall Street. She oversees the domestics grants program, direct service, and outreach from Trinity Church, and programming in areas of service and justice for Trinity Church.

Before coming to Trinity, the Rev. Varghese was the rector of St. Mark’s in the Bowery, a historic Episcopal congregation in New York City. From 2003-2009, she served as the Episcopal Chaplain at Columbia University. From 1999-2003 she served as the curate at St. Alban’s, Westwood and Episcopal Chaplain to UCLA. She graduated from the Union Theological Seminary (M.Div. 1999) and Southern Methodist University (B.A. Religious Studies 1994). As an intern in the Episcopal Service Corps (1994-1996) she worked with the Mental Health Association of Los Angeles as an outreach worker to people who were homeless and living with severe mental illness.