Why Don’t We Think of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his Chief of Staff, Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker, as Theologians?

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., left, meets with the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, center, and the Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker at First African Baptist Church in Richmond, Va., for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference convention on Sept. 25, 1963. King was SCLC president at the time, Lowery was vice president and Walker was executive director. (Carl Lynn/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., left, meets with the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, center, and the Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker at First African Baptist Church in Richmond, Va., for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference convention on Sept. 25, 1963. King was SCLC president at the time, Lowery was vice president and Walker was executive director. (Carl Lynn/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)

by F. Romall Smalls

When you think about the great theologians, what names come to mind?

Those who have profoundly impacted my theological foundation include the Rev. James Cone, philosopher Cornel West, the Rev. Eboni Marshall Turman and theologian Christopher Morse.

Cone, West and Morse were among my professors in seminary so I had the privilege of actually engaging with these revered minds. But is my list, our collective lists of theologians, missing someone?

Why don’t more of us study and think of theological giants like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his chief of staff, the Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker, as theologians? Social justice luminaries such as King and Walker are somehow viewed only as activists or civil rights leaders — but not as theologians. This is problematic.

If you explore the writings and scholarship of Walker in particular, who died in January at the age of 88, you will discover that he was nothing short of a civil rights icon — but a giant in so many other fields as well.

He was a composer, an ethnomusicologist, affordable housing developer and also one of the most important theologians of our time. He was the author of some 30 books and chapters that cover a rich theological tapestry of topics such as “Living in Hell” and “Spirituality as an Instrument of Social Change.” He taught and mentored countless graduate theological students at Virginia Union University, United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, and a myriad of other universities as a guest speaker or lecturer.

Take a look at the deep roots of how we (especially within the African-American church) think about G-d, how G-d relates to creation and the contours and purpose of our faith — and you should be compelled to acknowledge and appreciate the writings, teachings and scholarship of Walker as he thrived simultaneously as a social justice activist and theologian.

Click here to continue reading…

SOURCE: Religion News Service