Jeff Jardine

Politics aside, King remembrance stuck to the script during ceremony in Modesto

Stanislaus County Supervisor Terry Withrow holds Austin Stephenson, 3, as the two watch the 30th Martin Luther King Jr. Day service Monday at Christian Love Baptist Church in Modesto.
Stanislaus County Supervisor Terry Withrow holds Austin Stephenson, 3, as the two watch the 30th Martin Luther King Jr. Day service Monday at Christian Love Baptist Church in Modesto. jlee@modbee.com

They’ve celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy and birthday for the past three decades at Modesto’s Christian Love Baptist Church in west Modesto.

With inspirational music, traditional African dances, booming and powerful sermons, the Rev. James Anderson, his congregation, other area ministers and local government officials gathered for their annual show of unity. About 250 blacks, whites, Latinos, Asians and others, all there because that is what King preached. Soul, hymns, spirituals and bagpipes, all under one roof. And they’ve always stuck to the script – that King based all of his teachings and principles on his relationship with Jesus Christ.

But 2016 was one of the most racially tense and tumultuous years in decades, with numerous confrontations including the ambushing of police officers. Then came a presidential campaign that brought racism to the forefront, with white hate groups openly supporting Donald Trump, who will be sworn in as the 45th president on Friday amid a snit with Georgia Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights leader.

Would this year’s celebration be counted on, perhaps more than others, to repair social wounds? Would any or all of that change the dialogue at this year’s event? Would the King event stray a bit from its traditional course and into the political climate?

The answers were no, not much and not much. I cannot recall hearing Trump mentioned once by name throughout the 90-minute event. I heard nothing to indicate a fear or apprehension of what lies ahead. The only references to rising up were biblical. It remained a church service dedicated to King and not a political rally, placing their faith in God above all else.

I suspect the vast majority of beneficiaries didn’t spend much of their day thinking about King while they were home, shopping or up playing in the snow on a day when schools, government offices and banks were closed. But Anderson and the others embrace their roles as keepers of King’s legacy locally, truly preaching to the choir.

He and the Rev. Darius Crosby both lauded the relationship between local law enforcement and the local clergy council, bringing the coalition that includes blacks, whites and Latinos to the front of the church. They work closely to maintain lines of communication so incidents such as the ones that rocked Ferguson, Mo.; Milwaukee; Charlotte, N.C.; and other cities aren’t replicated in Modesto. They also paid tribute to fallen Stanislaus County sheriff’s Deputy Dennis Wallace.

Anderson, in fact, implored his congregation to respect and cooperate with law enforcement.

“If the police pull you over,” he said, “be kind. He’ll tell you (what he wants) if you’ll be quiet.”

Overall, their message stayed true. The keynote speaker, the Rev. Earl Smith, reminded the congregation, “We’re all here because Dr. King knew a man named Jesus,” a point he pounded home repeatedly throughout his sermon.

Said Anderson in closing, “I don’t worry about who’s in the White House. I worry about who’s in my house (the church).”

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