I was fortunate this past week to have been in a meeting with Gardner Taylor, pastor emeritus of Brooklyn’s Concord Baptist Church. For nearly 50 years, this eloquent and wise minister guided a diverse congregation through some of the most tumultuous times our nation has endured.
Dr. Taylor was encouraging us to preach with courage and conviction. He challenged us to use the language of worship to subvert a world of oppression and violence. He told us to use the words of the sermon to envision a beloved community organized to promote justice. He warned us about the danger of preaching only for favorable response, or to attract a crowd, or to build a big church.
During one of our breaks we learned that Coretta Scott King had died. It was evident that the news struck Dr. Taylor very hard.
After leading us in a moment of silence for someone he called a “great soul,” Dr. Taylor spent some time sharing with us some of his memories of Dr. and Mrs. King. During the height of the civil-rights movement, Dr. Taylor visited in the King home in Montgomery, Ala. He spoke of the fear, but also the hope that the young couple shared as they braved the uncharted waters of a social revolution.
Dr. Taylor said that he was impressed by Martin Luther King’s courage and resolve, but that in many ways the courage of Coretta Scott King was even greater. While Dr. King stood before throngs of people, giving them hope and inspiration with his words, it was Mrs. King who stood in the background giving her husband courage and support. It was in their humble home in Montgomery, Dr. Taylor told us, that the prayers and tears of one fragile family became the crucible of the civil-rights struggle.
“Coretta Scott King was a great soul,” Dr.Taylor told us, “because everyday she willingly and even gladly sent her husband away from safety of their home out into the uncertain danger of the struggle for racial equality. She sacrificed her own source of security and comfort for the greater good of America’s African-American community, for America itself.”
Dr. Taylor paused several times, overcome with emotion as he spoke of his friends. “In a very real sense,” he told us, “there would not have been a civil-rights movement and a spokesman like Dr. King had it not been for Coretta.”
That we would hear such words and such memories in a meeting devoted to courageous preaching struck all of us as singularly significant. Flowing underneath Dr. Taylor’s warning about the dangers of selling out the message for the sake of growing a big church, was powerful reminisces of a family that risked everything for a noble truth.
“Coretta Scott King understood the words of Jesus,” Dr. Taylor told us, “when he asked what does it profit us if we gain the whole world but lose our soul.”
He continued: “And losing our soul is not always about a grab for wealth or power or fame. Sometimes we lose our souls trying to keep ourselves safe, trying to keep what we have, forgetting that Jesus said if we seek to save our life, we lose it.”
Dr. Taylor concluded his remarks praying that the community of faith in America would be blessed by more great souls. “May God grant that we will find in our midst those who are not afraid to tell and live the truth, who are willing to risk everything for the purpose of achieving a greater common good.”
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.