American Baptist Home Mission Societies remembers John Lewis

VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 7/29/20)—American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) proudly remembers its 2003 Edwin T. Dahlberg Peace and Justice Award recipient, the honorable U.S. Rep. John Lewis, for his lifelong witness for and commitment to justice.

The Georgia democrat, an American Baptist and graduate of American Baptist Theological Seminary, Nashville, Tenn., passed away July 17 from pancreatic cancer. He received the Dahlberg Award for “more than 40 years of work for peace and justice that began with the nonviolent civil rights movement and continued in the U.S. political arena.”

“We were privileged to present to Rep. John Lewis American Baptists’ highest honor, the Edwin T. Dahlberg Peace and Justice Award, in 2003,” says Dr. Aidsand F. Wright-Riggins III, ABHMS executive director emeritus.

“John Lewis exemplified an agape-driven tenaciousness in pursuing liberty, justice and dignity for all persons,” Wright-Riggins continues. “His moral compass was not limited to the Constitution of the United States but was grounded in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as well. His was a life of extending equality and exhibiting grace in both his public and personal life, especially to those Jesus referred to as ‘the least of these.’ John was worthy of being emulated. The Dahlberg Award communicated that to American Baptists and to the world.”

Curtis Ramsey-Lucas, editor of ABHMS’ The Christian Citizen, remembers when Lewis received the Dahlberg Peace Award at the ABCUSA Biennial in Richmond, Va. “That night I introduced Congressman Lewis to my son Noah, who was 5 at the time. I remember the congressman bent down to shake Noah’s hand and look him in the eye. He wrote a note on a business card and gave it to Noah. He was gracious and kind and generous with his time.”

Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1986, the breadth of Lewis’ work—including voting rights, health care, housing, the environment and human rights issues—put him at the forefront of progressive social movements for decades.

Lewis was a leader of the nonviolent civil rights movement. He organized sit-in demonstrations at segregated lunch counters in Nashville; he was a Freedom Rider through South Carolina; and, at age 23, he was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington. The congressman had been the last surviving speaker of that march.

On March 7, 1965, Lewis was a leader of the peaceful Selma, Ala., march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge that turned into Bloody Sunday when state troopers attacked the unarmed marchers. This march and subsequent marches led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Despite more than 40 arrests, physical attacks and serious injuries, Lewis remained a devoted advocate of nonviolence throughout this lifetime.

“John Lewis exchanged fear for freedom in the struggle for justice,” says Dr. Jeffrey Haggray, ABHMS executive director. “Throughout nearly 60 years of public service, his life was blameless. He resisted violence, even though he suffered violently at the hands of the state. His steps never deviated from the movement for justice. In his later years, God showed wonderful favor upon him, and he died an American hero.”

Along with the Dahlberg Peace Award, Lewis—a member of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ga.—received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor; the Martin Luther King, Jr. Non-Violent Peace Prize; and the only John F. Kennedy “Profile in Courage Award” for Lifetime Achievement ever granted by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; among many others.

“I will always celebrate Congressman Lewis for the longevity of his activism, the persistence of his hope in spite of violent opposition and his ability to inspire,” says the Rev. Lisa Harris-Lee, ABHMS director of Mission Engagement and National Network Initiatives. “When Congressman Lewis entered the room during an advocacy day sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus in 2018, my 20-year-old nephew and I thankfully recalled together all that Lewis had done in his early 20s to boldly correct the course of this nation.”

American Baptist Home Mission Societies partners with American Baptists to promote Christian faith, cultivate Christ-centered leaders and disciples, and bring healing and transformation to communities across the United States and Puerto Rico.

American Baptist Churches USA is one of the most diverse Christian denominations today, with approximately 5,000 congregations comprised of 1.3 million members, across the United States and Puerto Rico, all engaged in God’s mission around the world.