Recalling the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., the Reverend Eugene Rivers III said overcoming racism required understanding the reality of the “spiritual war” occurring in America. He also described white supremacy as a “demonic principality” and “idolatry.”
Rivers spoke at The King’s College, a self-described “Christian…small liberal arts college” in New York City, about “Martin Luther King Jr. and the Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” on February 5. His address occurred on the first Monday of Black History Month and exactly three weeks after Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
In his address at King’s College, Rivers argued that MLK’s beliefs and teachings have been misremembered half a century after the assassination of the civil rights leader. “Whenever God raises up a prophet to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, one of the things that happens is that the custodians of authorized official memory try to write their brother and sister out of history,” Rivers said.
Rivers cited two biblical passages which he claimed represented MLK’s overarching beliefs about the fight for civil rights. Rivers said both versus remind Christians about the spiritual nature of earthly conflict:
“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” (2 Corinthians 10:4, ESV)
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12, ESV)
MLK realized that he and other civil rights leaders were struggling against spiritual principalities. Likewise Rivers said combatting racism and white supremacy required understanding the “theological and spiritual” elements of the battle. Rivers added that “white supremacy is idolatry” since it connects human value to physical characteristics instead of the fact that God created all people in His image.
However, not many advocates for justice after MLK have understood these truths when challenging white supremacy and racism, Rivers said:
Since King’s death, few have sought to engage the deeper spiritual and political meaning of this movement. The secular historiographic readings of the unfolding drama surrounding Martin Luther King Jr.’s sojourn, with rare exceptions, are conceptually and epistemologically inadequate to name, unmask, and engage the invisible powers that inform and, to some extent, determine human existence. These same powers are central to an adequate understanding of the political anatomy of white supremacy as a demonic principality.
By way of application, Rivers said “it’s the Word of God, it’s spiritual warfare, it’s intercessory prayer” that would serve as “the key to how America is going begin a process of healing.”
Rivers serves as a pastor at Azusa Christian Community Center, an independent Pentecostal church in Boston, Massachusetts. He also engages in community activism against violence. Rivers advised George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush “on both domestic and foreign policy issues, working on faith-based initiatives in America and on the AIDS crisis in Africa,” according to The King’s College.
Watch video of the Reverend Eugene Rivers III’s complete address at The King’s College: