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'Christ Did Not Die for Color': Former Klansmen and Black Pastor Honor Martin Luther King's Life and Legacy


People across the US are commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life, his faith, and his legacy of racial equality, including a former KKK Klansman and the pastor he now considers his "brother."

On November 17, 1957, Dr. King preached a sermon called "Love Your Enemies." Six months later he was shot and killed at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4th, 1968.

Joe Bednarsky, Jr. and his "brother" Rev. Charles E. Wilkins, Sr., are now living out King's message of love daily. 

"We are in the most segregated hour in America because churches have not dealt with race," Wilkins, pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Millville, NJ, told CBN News. "We like to say that the government has not dealt with race. We need to point the finger back at ourselves and realize that we have some real race issues that we are just not being honest about."

But the pair has decided to get real about the issue and show their community the real power love has over hatred. 

"I could not preach the Gospel I preach and not believe that Jesus has the power to change hearts," Wilkins said. "Even (the heart) of someone who hated me. The challenge has not so much been Joe loving those he used to hate, but those he used to hate, loving Joe."

Joe, the 6-foot 6-inch Jersey native, admits to once hurting black people, burning crosses in their lawns and referring to them with racial slurs. 

For the 49-year-old, it all began the day his interest in photography led him to the doorstep of a neighboring Klansman. 

"I started to hang out there and be a part of the family...that's when the brainwashing process started," Joe told CBN News.

He joined the Klan at the age of 18 and quickly rose through the ranks. By the time Rev. Wilkins moved to Millville in 1997, Joe had quite the reputation. 

When he first arrived, church members told him there was a Klan rally at the local post office just a couple days prior. 

"I had no idea that Joe was the one they were talking about and that he was leading the Klan rally which is a few blocks from my church," he said. "I was told that he was a pretty scary, dangerous character."

Several years later, to the shock of many people in the community, including Rev. Wilkins, Joe walked through the doors of the church. 

Joe said he was desperate for his life to change and he gave his life to the Lord while watching an episode of the 700 Club. 

"God delivered me of the hatred that night. I gave my heart to Jesus, but I tell people you don't go to bed being a racist and wake up the next morning singing 'Kumbaya' with everybody," he explained. "It was a process that I had to learn... with God's help I was able to do so."

Joe now serves as a security volunteer at the predominately black church and works in their soup kitchen daily. 

Wilkins said it is the love of Christ and Dr. King's ideals of love, forgiveness, and unity that has allowed these two to be a light in their community. 

"First thing we have to do is believe what we preach," he said. "God is more interested in our future than in our past and if I believe that, then I have to believe that there is no one who cannot be reached."

"Understand that Christ did not die for color. He died for a cause and that cause was love," he added. "Christ did not come to save...one race over another. He came to save all sinners." 

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