“Committed to Listen” MLK Day 2024

Monday, January 15, 2024
12:15 pm (Eastern)  •  Online

One month after the start of the 1956 Montgomery bus boycott, at 9:15 pm on January 30, while The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was speaking to a congregation of 2,000 at First Baptist Church, his home was fire-bombed. His wife, Coretta, seven-week-old daughter, Yolanda, and a neighbor were inside. The front of the home was damaged, but no one was injured.

Dr. King rushed home to find a large crowd gathered outside, some carrying guns and prepared to take action in his defense. After checking on his family, King addressed the anxious and angry crowd, many of whom were members of his church. “If you have weapons,” he pleaded, “take them home; if you do not have them, please do not seek them. We cannot solve this problem through violence. We must meet violence with nonviolence.” The crowd dispersed peacefully after he assured them, “Go home and don’t worry. We are not hurt, and remember, if anything happens to me there will be others to take my place.”

However, King was extremely concerned about his family’s safety and days later applied for a permit to carry a concealed handgun. (King already owned at least one gun that he kept at the house.) The sheriff denied his application, saying he was “unsuitable.” In other words, he was Black.

But in the days that followed, he and Coretta reconsidered and even decided to give up the gun they already owned. He wrote, “How could I serve as one of the leaders of a nonviolent movement and at the same time use weapons of violence for my personal protection?”

Twelve years later, in 1968, King would become one of the most famous victims of gun violence in U.S. history when he was assassinated in Memphis. In 1974, King’s mother, Alberta King, was shot and killed as she played the organ at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.

In the fifty-five years since Dr. King’s assassination, the number of civilians killed by guns in the United States has exceeded the number of Americans killed in uniform during all the wars in our nation’s history combined. And on October 25, 2023, Maine experienced the worst mass shooting in our state’s history.

For our 2024 commemoration of MLK Day, The Maine Council of Churches and The BTS Center will co-host an online public reading of excerpts from The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. that reveal how King’s stance on gun ownership evolved after the 1956 fire-bombing, from that of a gun owner desperate to protect himself and his family, to a leader who understood that fear was both a tool of the oppressor and a deeply internalized trait of white supremacy, to a preacher who challenged people of faith to read the Second Amendment in light of the Second Commandment (“Do not make idols and bow down to and serve them”) and recognize the false divinity of guns in our national consciousness.

This event will include a public reading featuring multiple voices interpreted in American Sign Language, music by songwriter and recording artist Joshua Long, and space for reflection.

This year’s “Committed to Listen” event will include music by Joshua Long, Baltimore-area songwriter, producer, recording artist, guitarist, and environmental activist

Meet Joshua Long, Event Musician

In 2017, Josh enrolled at Wesley Theological Seminary to seek a Masters of Divinity degree. In 2019, he moved to a Public Theology specialization and focused his studies on climate change, social justice, and the role of faith. For his capstone thesis project, he produced an entire album of music dedicated to creation justice through worship and sacred songs. In May 2023, Joshua received Wesley’s Public Theology Excellence Award. He is now the Congregational Organizer for Interfaith Power & Light (DC, MD, NoVA). He has also been recognized by Black Millennials 4 Flint as one of their 40 Under 40: Young, Gifted, and Green Award winners. 
Joshua Long is an award-winning songwriter, producer, worship leader, and environmental activist with a passion for creating music that moves the soul and inspires change. With almost 20 years in the industry, he has honed his skills in various genres, ranging from Hiphop, Soul, and Pop to Contemporary Christian and Gospel Music. Josh earned his Bachelors of Music degree in 2008 from the University of the Arts. Since then, he has worked with various artists, played with different bands, released two solo albums, and has worked on several singles and EPs for himself and other artists. His third Album “We Are Earth” is an evolution showcasing Josh’s growth in his music and his faith.

Made possible in part by a generous grant from:

Event Cohosts:

Founded in 1938, the Maine Council of Churches is a nonprofit, ecumenical coalition of seven mainline Protestant member denominations, all of whom have their roots in Hebrew and Christian scripture. Our seven members have 435 congregations in Maine with more than 55,000 members in their care. We also have two associate member congregations who are not affiliated with a member denomination, and one cooperating body denomination.
The mission of MCC is to speak with a prophetic voice of faith, connecting people within, through, and beyond the church to create a more just, compassionate, and peaceful world.

With roots dating back to 1814, The BTS Center is a private foundation in Portland, Maine, building on the legacy of the former Bangor Theological Seminary. Today The BTS Center seeks to catalyze spiritual imagination, with enduring wisdom, for transformative faith leadership. Guided by the vision of human hearts renewed, justice established, and creation restored, The BTS Center offers theologically grounded programs of continuing education and spiritual formation, including workshops and retreats, learning cohorts, public conversations, and projects of applied research, all focused around spiritual leadership in a climate-changed world.