U.S. Rep. John Lewis tells crowd at Montreat to speak up and speak out

Civil rights pioneer captivates crowd of 1,000 at conference

August 26, 2015

U.S. Rep. John Lewis takes questions from Paul Roberts, president of Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary and moderator of the Q & A session during his appearance at Anderson Auditorium in Montreat.

U.S. Rep. John Lewis takes questions from Paul Roberts, president of Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary and moderator of the Q & A session during his appearance at Anderson Auditorium in Montreat. —Joseph Williams

MONTREAT, N.C.

Nearly 1,000 people gathered on a rainy Saturday evening inside Anderson Auditorium at the Montreat (N.C.) Conference Center to hear from one of the leading civil rights activists in the nation. Congressman John R. Lewis shared stories of how he met Martin Luther King, Jr. and got involved in the civil rights movement in the early 1960’s.

“To come where Dr. King walked, talked, spoke and preached is almost too much,” he said during his Aug. 22, 2015 address. “Martin Luther King, Jr. was my friend, my hero and my inspiration. He was like a brother to me.”

Lewis was one of many speakers and ministers who came to Montreat last weekend for “Dr. King’s Unfinished Agenda: A Teach-In for Rededicating Ourselves to the Dream.” The three-day conference commemorated the 50th anniversary of King’s appearance at the campus.

As he paced across the stage floor, Lewis recalled how he grew up being told to stay out of trouble and not get involved. But he said the words and actions of people like King and Rosa Parks, inspired him to do just the opposite.

“I believe it’s time for the church to get in trouble as well,” he said. “I believe the American church is too quiet and it’s time to speak up, speak out and find a way to get in the way. Get into trouble, good trouble, and necessary trouble.”

As believers, Lewis said people should let the Holy Spirit move within them and step out with grace, faith and love and not be afraid.

“If we want to build a loving community, we cannot shy away from responsibility to lead. The church must be the headlight not the taillight,” said Lewis. “There’s too much suffering in our world and I don’t think the forces of history will be kind to us if we fail to speak up and speak out.”

U.S. Representative John Lewis is joined by J. Herbert Nelson of the PC(USA) Office of Public Witness and William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, as they scatter flower pedals at Montreat in honor of civil rights leader Julian Bond who died last week.

U.S. Representative John Lewis is joined by J. Herbert Nelson of the PC(USA) Office of Public Witness and William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, as they scatter flower pedals at Montreat in honor of civil rights leader Julian Bond who died last week. —Joseph Williams

Lewis urged young and old alike to always speak with peace and love. Arrested 40 times in the 1960’s and at least five times since becoming a member of congress, Lewis told the crowd he doesn’t know of a single human being that he dislikes or hates, saying King would tell today’s youth to “never let someone pull you down so low to make you hate them.”

“If you want to create loving communities, we must respect and love every human being. We don’t have the right to destroy another human,” he said. “Sometimes I feel like some people get up mean, dream mean and are just mean all of the time. How can you build a loving community when you tear people down for race, color or sexual orientation?”

Lewis told the crowd to be happy because they serve a God of love, mercy and grace. He referred to the song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams and said our time on this planet is too short to be mean. Pharrell’s song was played at the conclusion of Lewis’ speech as hundreds came close to meet him personally.

Lewis arrived in Montreat earlier in the day and participated in a brief ceremony at Lake Susan in honor of Julian Bond, the civil rights activist and friend of Lewis, who died last week. Joined by church leaders and hundreds of attendees, Lewis and others scattered flower pedals on the lake to remember Bond.