C.T. Vivian leads reflection on Martin Luther King, the nonviolent prophet, during Goshen College’s Study Day

GOSHEN, Ind. — A former associate of Martin Luther King Jr., Rev. Dr. C.T. Vivian, joined the Goshen College campus to celebrate the day set aside on campus and across the country to honor the late civil rights leader on Jan. 19.

Vivian began the 11th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Study Day by speaking to a large group of pastors and community leaders during the annual Community Prayer Breakfast. After the diverse campus community choir, Voices ‘n Harmony, stirred the crowd with their Gospel renditions, Vivian, a close associate of King’s and a member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference executive staff, followed by giving insight into the man and the mission of Martin Luther King Jr.

When King led 50,000 people into the streets nonviolently to face the violence of racism, he showed “that nonviolence can work no matter how difficult the problem. It can in fact liberate,” Vivian said. “King was more than a Black man helping Black people. He was liberating a nation and helping us to understand our humanity. Martin understood the world in a whole new way. When we fight, it says we didn’t catch the message.”

During the mid-morning convocation, Vivian spoke on “Martin Luther King: Prophet of our age.” Using the Bible’s descriptions of the prophets, Vivian clarified the true meaning of Martin Luther King as a prophet. “There are so few prophets. A prophet isn’t someone who tells us what’s going to happen, but someone who guides future generations,” Vivian said. “Prophets aren’t perfect, but they were perfect enough to help us create a more perfect world.”

According to Vivian, the Bible describes the prophets as people who were called to their destiny, weren’t manipulative or opportunistic, received the mantle of leadership from the people, believed in a personal God, suffered but found joy, and weren’t seduced by materialism. He then walked through each of the characteristics, showing how King matched up.

Vivian told the story about the time the front of King’s home was bombed and a crowd gathered with their weapons ready for retaliation. But King told the people to go home. In defusing the confrontation, he passed a test of his commitment to nonviolence. “Had he decided to follow the path of violence, we would have all been in a racial war for at least three generations following,” Vivian said.

King showed “that through nonviolence and dependence on God, the greatest sin of America — racism — could change,” Vivian said. “He showed that nonviolence can change any social problem.”

He continued by saying, “The world always tries to make things what they are not. Martin’s movement was a moral and spiritual one, not political. What Martin knew was that until the soul is changed, nothing can be permanently changed meaningfully.”

During the afternoon workshop sessions, Vivian led a “Nonviolent Training” session where he answered students and community members’ questions and spoke about the importance of taking action. “Passivity is our greatest enemy, right next to outright racism,” he said.

Other afternoon workshops included “Survivors’ Stories: A Dialogue on Domestic Violence,” led by a student and faculty member; “The Witness of Nonviolent Change Today: Some Experience from Christian Peacemaker Teams,” with Janet Shoemaker and Rich Meyer; a presentation by four students about a hypothetical school incorporating anti-racism education throughout its curriculum; and a video presentation by staff member Todd Hershberger about the views of Goshen College administrators on campus anti-racism and diversity efforts.

Goshen College, established in 1894, is a four-year residential Christian liberal arts college rooted in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition. The college’s Christ-centered core values — passionate learning, global citizenship, compassionate peacemaking and servant-leadership — prepare students as leaders for the church and world. Recognized for its unique Study-Service Term program, Goshen has earned citations of excellence in Barron’s Best Buys in Education, Kaplan’s “Most Interesting Colleges” guide and U.S.News & World Report‘s “America’s Best Colleges” edition, which named Goshen a “least debt college.” Visit https://www.goshen.edu/.

Editors: For more information, contact Jodi H. Beyeler at (574) 535-7572 or jodihb@goshen.edu.