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Published: Monday, 1/15/2001

MLK follower bemoans lack of progress


A black Lutheran leader who witnessed the “I have a dream” speech more than 37 years ago suggested to a racially diverse Toledo audience yesterday that today's headlines would greatly disappoint Martin Luther King, Jr.

“If Martin Luther King was here before us, he would ask, `What happened to the dream? What happened?'” the Rev. W. Arthur Lewis told more than 300 people at yesterday afternoon's Martin Luther King, Jr., worship service in Glenwood Lutheran Church in the Old West End.

In particular, Mr. Lewis, who was a 33-year-old activist when Dr. King delivered the 1963 speech and is now the director of the Lutheran Theological Center in Atlanta, said today's opposition to abortion rights and George W. Bush's pick for U.S. attorney general would upset King.

He attacked former U.S. Sen. John Ashcroft (R., Mo.), President-elect Bush's nominee for attorney general, saying he “disrespects women” and minorities.

After the service, he explained that part of his reasoning behind his statement was Senator Ashcroft's opposition to abortion, but he added: “I don't see any of his past as positive.”

Mr. Lewis said he favors legal abortion and views it as a freedom issue.

He said King would be disappointed that women are not all paid as much as men for the same work, that some neighborhoods do not welcome the same blacks who they cheer for in professional sporting events, and that some southern state flags include the Confederate battle emblem.

He urged members of the congregation not to turn their backs on homeless people when they ask for help, putting into effect Jesus's words of feeding the hungry and clothing the naked.

“So many of us fail to really hear those words and live by those words,” said Mr. Lewis, who was once director of the New Jersey Governor's Office of African-American Affairs and has directed faith community-based social ministry organizations.

'We've got to keep meeting like this,' the Rev. W. Arthur Lewis tells a Toledo audience. 'We've got to keep meeting like this,' the Rev. W. Arthur Lewis tells a Toledo audience.

Mr. Lewis's comments about Senator Ashcroft and abortion, however, rang wrong when repeated to Pat Kriner, Lucas County Republican Party chairman, who did not attend the service.

“I have a serious disagreement with the gentleman if he feels opposition to abortion is disrespecting women or minorities,” Mr. Kriner said. “It just doesn't make any sense to me. For a lot of people, it's an issue of faith.”

In addition to Mr. Lewis's message at the church's 12th Martin Luther King service, he spoke at Glenwood's morning service as well, kicking off what is planned as a full year of events celebrating the congregation's 100th anniversary.

The church has 580 members and draws about 200 people to most Sunday services. But yesterday's service was aimed at more than the congregation on Monroe Street.

Choir members from St. Philip Lutheran Church and All Saints' Episcopal Church were among those who sang, often to an audience that clapped along in the two-hour service.

“We've got to keep meeting like this,” the Rev. Marc Miller said after renditions of “Old Time Religion” and “Amazing Grace.”


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