The Ebenezer Gospel
NOT counting his days of student apprenticeship, Martin Luther King, Jr. served Ebenezer Baptist Church as its "copastor" for eight years and three months, just under one hundred months in all. He did not preach at Ebenezer every Sunday, but he spoke there often enough to establish what Paul (or any preacher) would have called "my gospel," an evolving, sometimes volatile, interpretation of God's will for Ebenezer and the world. The Ebenezer gospel is what the preacher King had to say to his people over the course of his one-hundred-month pastorate; it is his "message." It is important to gather the fragments of this gospel into a coherent whole because he carried a modified version of it into world history, thus making knowledge of the Ebenezer gospel essential to an understanding of his public message—his quest for justice, yearning for redemption, insistence on nonviolence, embrace of suffering, prophetic rage, and all else that emerged from his Sundays in Atlanta. King's Ebenezer sermons differ from his mass-meeting speeches and his civil addresses, but they are not inconsistent with them; they are the religious subtext for his sermon to the nation. The "first draft" of all that he said, achieved, and suffered from Montgomery to Memphis is present in the audiotape recordings and crudely typed transcripts of his Ebenezer gospel.
The bent of King's gospel follows the contours of the Christian story of redemption. It begins with the human condition, which is nothing other