Warren Freeman is senior pastor at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Leavenworth.
1. How have the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King influenced your personal life and your professional life as a pastor?
The teachings of Dr. King have a great influence on my personal life and that of my family. My family is a great proponent of education and equality. My father served in the U.S. Army for 20-plus years and because of his duty stations (Fort Benning, Ga.) in the 1960s my background was not in a purely segregated environment. I did see my family however experience discrimination at various levels, because my family was a Christian family who believed that God created all people the same, we as a family did all we could to associate with all who cared to do the same. I believe that as a pastor, the same applies today. Although I pastor a predominately African American congregation, I have always stressed in my ministry the need for all of God's children to receive the good news, and that all people regardless of their race or background have the right to receive whatever resources the church has to offer.
2. As the pastor at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, do you use Dr. King's teachings in your sermons and if you do what are his most valuable lessons that you emphasize to your parishioners?
Without question. While I may not always refer to Dr. King by name, or even use the civil rights movement as a sermon base, my preachings always are geared at all people. Some of the most common sermon points used are teachings from the parables. I truly believe that the parables of the Bible speak to common day issues, and in Dr. King's teachings, the emphasis points he used in many cases also were formed from the parables. Dr. King was a common-day person, who used a common-day gospel to speak to the world. The parables of the Bible do the same. In addition to the commandments, the idea of treating people the way you desire to be treated continues to be the greatest point of emphases of the Bible and that of Dr. King.
3. Do you think Dr. King's reputation as one of the greatest orators of all time was well deserved and why do you think his speeches have had such a profound effect on not only African Americans, but all races and ethnic groups?
I believe that Dr. King's reputation as one of the greatest orators of all time without question holds true. However, I must state that because of who Dr. King was, a great preacher and proclaimer of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he must be recognized as one of the greatest preachers of all times. I state this point because there is a great difference between that of an orator and a preacher. His speeches were always biblically based regardless of who he was speaking to, His speeches were always geared toward living in harmony and love and in a spirit of unity and community. His speeches had a profound impact on everyone. As the climate of the country has changed over the years, although there are those who would still believe in segregation and separation, so many who started out believing that segregation was the only way have since changed their views, and because the climate and environment of the country dictates the same, I believe that people generally would rather live in an environment and in communities where people of all colors, races and creeds can live together.
Page 2 of 3 - 4. How has the local African American community been empowered over the years because of Dr. King's positive message of combating racial inequality through nonviolence?
Not being a native of Leavenworth, however familiar with Leavenworth, I can say that the city is moving in a new direction. While feeling a sense of community amongst the residents, as in all communities, there is much work to do. Our religious leaders and community organizations could stand to be more inclusive. While preaching togetherness and unity are spoken in words, our actions still lack. This community as in so many other communities this size need to reach out across racial lines. At times I sense a spirit of tolerance as opposed to a spirit of actual harmony and unity.
5. Since Dr. King's death, what public figures do you think have best carried on his great legacy and message of hope?
Of course, I believe President Barack Obama, however this is not about a great African American leader. The message of hope must be carried by all leaders. I have recently seen Gov. Chris Christie speak words of hope. His words may have been born out of a disaster that struck the state in which he governs, but I felt his message was from the heart. People working together, people helping people. Our country and society needs and does have positive role models who may in fact be qualified to be called "drum majors for the cause," such as Rev, Rick Warren (The Purpose Driven Life," Rev. Al Sharpton, who is a drum major for the civil rights of all persons, and so many others. The bottom line is any person, preacher, lay person, business leader or common-day citizen who is willing to openly speak a positive message or words of togetherness, unity and community should be an individual recognized for carrying a message of hope. Dr. King's message of non-violence speaks as loudly today as it did in the 60's and 70's. Even more so today does the country need to listen and hear the message. We are no longer divided only by color, we are allowing ourselves to be divided by class, health, religious preference, sexual orientation and whether or not we may have or have not a mental health issue. The message of overcoming is now expanded. The question must also be addressed, when will we overcome? Will we ever overcome in unity, or will it be done only in segments. Will we overcome because the hearts of man desire to, or will we overcome only as an act of legislation. Will we overcome is the real question. As the final words of the Negro spiritual, many times quoted by Dr. King, would be sung or spoken, "If in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome someday." Overcoming all of the barriers that divide people.
Page 3 of 3 - — Rimsie McConiga