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Methodist pastor knows that dreams come true Jim Nelson, Jan 15, 2009
Dr. Joseph Lowery, a longtime civil-rights activist, will give the benediction at Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration.
By Jim Nelson Special Contributor
On a hot summer day, Aug. 28, 1963, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stood on a platform at the Lincoln Memorial overlooking the National Mall in Washington, D.C., where between 200,000 and 300,000 civil-rights marchers had gathered.
Millions more watched on television. CBS had been providing continuous coverage of the march, but when King got up to speak, ABC and NBC also interrupted their programming to carry his speech live.
In the middle of his speech, King diverted from his text and spoke his now-famous words: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Forty-five years later to the day—Aug. 28, 2008—Barack Obama stood on a platform at Invesco Field in Denver, Colo., before a crowd of 84,000. Millions more watched on television as he accepted the nomination of the Democratic Party for the presidency of the United States. Americans went to the polls on Nov. 4 and elected him president, based not on the color of his skin, but the content of his character.
On Jan. 20, 2009, Mr. Obama will stand on another platform on the west side of the U.S. Capitol looking toward the Lincoln Memorial, and be sworn in as our 44th president. That will be just one day after we, as a nation, celebrate what would have been King’s 80th birthday.
The symbolism of all those events is not lost on the Rev. Joseph Lowery, a retired United Methodist pastor and member of the North Georgia Conference.
Dr. Lowery, along with King and several other pastors, founded in 1957 the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He served as SCLC’s vice president (1957-67); as chairman of the board (1967-77); and as president and chief executive officer from February 1977 until he retired in 1998.
Dr. Lowery was also a very close personal friend and confidant of the King family, and has been an outspoken advocate of civil rights.
Dr. Lowery said he didn’t expect to live long enough to see a black president elected in the U.S.
“While working on the Voting Rights Act in the mid-‘60s, we mentioned that we might have a black president some day, but nobody really thought it would happen in our lifetime,” Dr. Lowery said. “Well maybe Bobby Kennedy did.”
In a recent interview, Dr. Lowery related the personal impact of Mr. Obama’s election. He said he had a missed-call on his cell phone from the president-elect, and when he called back, he said, “I would like to speak with the 44th president-elect.” The man who answered responded, “That would be me.”
A moment of silence followed, Dr. Lowery said, “as we both just took in what that meant.”
Dr. Lowery was asked by Mr. Obama to give the benediction at the Jan. 20 inauguration ceremony. In doing so, he will be the first person to pray over the new president.
The invocation will be given by Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and the author of The Purpose Driven Life. Though Mr. Warren’s selection has caused some dissatisfaction among some of Mr. Obama’s supporters, Dr. Lowery said he respected the president-elect’s tone “of reaching across the divide, reaching out and bringing in.”
Both he and Mr. Warren will have two minutes for their respective prayers. But Dr. Lowery joked that he may have to test that. He wants to focus on the connection between Mr. Obama, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr., which he believes will be very evident that day.
When he preached in December at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on “Our Four-Fathers,” Dr. Lowery cited George Washington, Lincoln, King and Mr. Obama, because “under their watch and actions the nation experienced a new birth.”
The Rev. Nelson is editor of the Wesleyan Christian Advocate in Georgia.