Martin, Maston, and Millard: 3 M Baptists and Social Justice

Article excerpt

In a recent sermon in Logsdon Seminary's chapel service, Rick McClatchy noted:

   Baptists at their best have been reforming, not reformed, but
   reforming. This reforming dynamic surely finds its heart in the
   typically named Baptist distinctives, particularly in the exercise
   of religious liberty. Twenty-first century Baptists owe a great
   deal of gratitude toward those Baptists of other centuries who
   engaged in the struggle for the expression of individual conscience
   before God. Without exception where the struggle resided and
   engaged, matters of social justice were at stake. (1)

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Baptists have found themselves embroiled in the struggle for social justice regularly throughout history. Some have engaged a given cultural and theological context, certainly a call that others undoubtedly sensed but to which they did not respond. These who must be identified as prophetic leave models for current Baptists, not only to identify with but to assimilate and perpetuate. (2) Exploring matters of church history can follow at least four major modes of examination: personalities, theological themes, social issues, or cultural milieus. Our endeavor at hand demonstrates a blend of these approaches, though the principle mode is that of personalities. Three men--Martin Luther King, Jr., (3) T. B. Maston, (4) and Millard Fuller (5)--are Baptists who worked in the latter part of the twentieth century and in Fuller's case into the twenty-first century.

Martin, Maston, and Millard had more in common than one of their names beginning with the letter "M." (6) Their lives bore witness that any list of Baptist distinctives should include the propensity to be dissatisfied with social injustice whereever it appears and to be about the work of applying justice in the name of the gospel. Each of these three Baptists uniquely addressed social justice. At the least, they demonstrated that the pursuit of social justice is to be an implicit and explicit part of proclaiming and doing the gospel. As well, their lives illustrated that the pursuit of social justice in this world cannot be the work of only a few, but rather there is a need for ever increasing numbers of like-minded Baptists to respond to the call of engaging the cause of social justice. In and of themselves, each of these Baptists present fascinating and inspiring life stories. Their particular methodologies of engaging culture are educational and prophetic. Few Baptists do not know something of each of these men. For those who are unfamiliar with any of the three--King was a community organizer; Maston was a teacher; and Fuller was a home builder. The goal of this article is to present themes that demonstrate the commonalities between these 3 M Baptists. These themes should be mutually reinforcing so as to present, finally, a profile of one we could call a Baptist prophet, a category becoming all too rare. (7)

Biblically and Theologically Sound

King, Maston, and Fuller all operated from solid biblical and theological grounds, in spite of what their detractors maintained. Intricate hermeneutical arguments were not their mainstay. Rather, they developed what was plainly available for anyone who wanted to draw life directions from scripture. Each found the matter of moving from biblical principles set out in a mostly different cultural context from his own to be extraordinarily helpful for his and our own time.

Martin Luther King, Jr., followed in his father's and grandfather's footsteps, becoming a Baptist preacher in Atlanta, Georgia, at Ebenezer Baptist Church. He considered a different profession: academic theologian. Yet, ultimately, King was drawn back to the family practice. His education, however, moved his family's strict fundamentalism towards a rational theological method of Protestant Liberalism. His version of prophetic Christianity was influenced by his study of Reinhold Niebuhr and Walter Rauschenbusch. …