After years of anticipation, a King comes to Bethel

May 10, 2013 | 11 a.m.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter addresses students in chapel

News | Greta Sowles

After years of anticipation, a King comes to Bethel

Photo for The Clarion courtesy of Bernice King.

“I am not ashamed of the gospel,” began Bernice King in her oratory at chapel on May 3, over 50 years after her father, Martin Luther King Jr., was scheduled to speak at Bethel College. Benson Great Hall overflowed with eager students, faculty and other members of the surrounding community to hear the words of the youngest daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King.

While her message referenced her father and the movement he began, King connected with Bethel’s Symposium on Faith and Values by talking about the need for peacemakers in our world today. “It’s very difficult to be a peacemaker if you don’t have peace with God yourself,” King challenged the audience.

In addition to speaking nationally and internationally, King is the CEO of The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, Ga. She is also the author of the book “Hard Questions, Heart Answers,” a selection of her sermons and speeches. Many would agree that King inherited her gift of preaching from her father. “She is definitely a student of her father’s teachings,” said Curtiss DeYoung, professor of reconciliation studies.

King’s visit to Bethel was a process that began over three years ago, when Campus Pastor Laurel Bunker and other members of Campus Ministries began to formulate a list of speakers that Bethel would love to have. “As I was in my prayer time, I kept thinking about Bernice King. Not only because of the King family and because so many of our students care about issues of justice, but also because she was someone that just kept coming to mind,” said Bunker.

Bunker researched King – where she was spiritually and in evangelical circles, where she was in terms of Bethel’s stance on certain issues and how much it would cost for her to speak. She then contacted the All American Speakers Bureau, which represents King, and filled out the paperwork to get King to speak at Bethel. Although Bethel could not afford the initial quote, King agreed to a negotiated price. “I was thrilled. And the enemy tried to fight us along the way because the Speakers Bureau was frankly very difficult to work with,” Bunker said.
Campus Ministries ended up talking to the president of the Speakers Bureau to work with them on getting contract information for King’s visit. In the end, the kinks were worked out, and King flew from Atlanta to Minnesota for the event. “She came, and she came gladly,” said Bunker.

Bunker believes that King was able to come to Bethel because of a combination of God’s work and the letter that Campus Ministries wrote.

“We had also, in our initial letter, talked about the desire that we’d had 50 years ago to invite Dr. King here and that our president at the time was adamant on bringing Dr. King here and would have if things had been different.”

In January 1957, President Carl H. Lundquist sent a letter to Martin Luther King Jr. asking him to speak at Bethel around the time he was scheduled to speak at the Minnesota Preachers' Conference. After much correspondence, Lundquist had negotiated a speaking date of Dec. 1, 1960, but King canceled the event. Over 50 years later, the Bethel community was graced with his daughter’s presence.

According to Bunker, King enjoyed her visit to Bethel. “I had her sign a book for me, and one of the things that she said in the book was ‘I look forward to advancing the kingdom with you,’ and I take that very seriously,” said Bunker. “I take that to mean that this visit was the first of many times, and I pray that Dr. Bernice King and I, and Bethel, will be together to advance the work of justice and of peacemaking in the world.”

In talking to Bunker, King suggested having her assistants connect with Bethel for the 50th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C. There is potential for a delegation of students from Bethel to come together late this August, travel to Washington, D.C., be taught about the nonviolent resistance movement by King and be at the memorial on the speech's anniversary. Any students interested in this journey are encouraged to contact Bunker.

Bunker, Campus Ministries and DeYoung were pleased with the collective efforts to welcome King and celebrate the legacy and heritage of Bethel. “It was a special moment for Bethel, and I think the students appreciated that and understood that,” said DeYoung.

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