My History with the Work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Douglas Bendall

Dr. King is the Church leader who inspired my ministry. Growing up in Baltimore in the 40’s and 50’s I saw segregation at first hand. I always knew instinctively it was unjust, but believed little could be done about it. I resisted as best I could by speaking in behalf of Black people when offered an opportunity and later by deliberately drinking from Colored Water Fountains after I had gained the strength of a man. I deliberately transgressed the boundaries of the system and dared anyone to call me on it. When I first heard Dr. King speak, I knew we had found the spokesman for racial justice we were waiting for. The War in Vietnam and Dr. King’s death caused me to begin thinking about the systematic social roots of oppression. In seminary I adopted Dr. King’s values and his social ideals as my goals for doing ministry.

My life’s journey took me to Berkeley, California, where I did graduate work with Norman Gottwald and studied Process Theology. During this time, I joined Norman, Charles McCoy and some other faculty and students to form the Alternative Seminary Caucus at The Graduate Theological Union. Our goal was to envision a school of theology that provides a high quality academic education together with a commitment to address issues of class, gender, race, and ethnicity.

I carried the vision of the school with me for over 25 years before arriving in Newark, New Jersey, to do inner-city ministry. In August 1995, the Lord inspired me to establish The Newark School of Theology. We are presently in our 16th year of offering high quality classes in the Bible, Theology, and Pastoral Care to inner-city ministers, persons preparing for diaconal ordination in The Episcopal Church, and lay persons of various denominations.

The Newark School of Theology is the realization of the ideals and hopes of the Alternative Seminary Caucus in Berkeley in the early 1970’s. Dr. King’s theology, ministry, and social ideals inspire and guide the work of the school. We bring high quality theological education and Dr. King’s understanding of the Bible and Theology to inner-city ministers and lay persons in the hope they may be inspired and empowered to create and model their own ministries upon the life and ministry of Dr. King.

Dr. Douglas Bendall is the founder and President of the Newark School of Theology, and will be one of the respondents at the “Birmingham and the Bible” Fall Seminar. We asked him to reflect briefly on what his background and experience with Dr. King’s work is and has been, to share his thinking in the run-up to this exciting event.