March 2019 – The Rev. Dr. Leslie Callahan examined Martin Luther King Jr. as a pastor during a forum at Drew Theological School.
Callahan, the first woman to lead St. Paul’s Baptist Church in Philadelphia, sees King’s activism as a facet of pastoral ministry. In her talk, she explored why he engaged in activism and the turns it took during the last year of his life, including civil rights, the Poor People’s Campaign and his opposition to the Vietnam War. In particular, she noted the importance and controversy surrounding his “Beyond Vietnam” speech.
King’s dedication to activism is why his life is commemorated today, according to Callahan. “Our activism today is a part of his legacy,” she added. “We have not yet arrived. Activism work goes on.”
Callahan also referenced the many people who surrounded themselves with King with “dissonant chords,” asking Theological School students to reflect upon them with “Someone Is Listening,” an anthem commissioned for the centennial of the NAACP. Guthrie Ramsey Jr. composed the music and poet Elizabeth Alexander provided the words.
Addressing an audience of pastors and aspiring pastors, the minister stressed that the pastoral role goes beyond the walls of the church and must be integrated with community. She added, “If we don’t value everybody, we are all in danger.”
Such community involvement is central to the Theological School’s Social Justice Leadership Project, which enables students to work with activists, justice artists and thinkers.
Callahan’s talk was organized by Drew’s Black Ministerial Caucus and also celebrated Black History Month.