Died: Melvin E. Banks, Publisher of Black Sunday School Curriculum


When contextualizing Scripture was controversial, he said “the bottom line is Jesus.”

Melvin E. Banks, founder of the largest black Christian publishing house in the United States, died on February 13 at age 86.

Banks started Urban Ministries Inc. in the basement of his home in Chicago in 1970, focusing on Sunday school curriculum and Bible study materials for African American Christians. The ministry grew to serve more than 50,000 black churches.

Banks contextualized Scripture to show its relevance to contemporary African American life and shocked many Christians, black and white, with depictions of Bible characters as people of color. Banks insisted the images were accurate, since the world of the biblical narrative included Middle Easterners as well as many North Africans, and also argued it was important. Black people needed to knoe they were part of Bible history.

“When I grew up, all the Sunday school literature was produced by white people and all the writing was done from a white perspective,” he said. “All the biblical characters were portrayed as white people. It dawned on me that the material as published did not connect.”

White evangelicals sometimes accused Banks of being a black separatist or even supporting segregation and racism by focusing his ministry on black Christians and black churches. Banks, a graduate of Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College, rejected the idea, saying it was just clear that black Christians couldn’t count on white Christians to help them understand the Bible.

“The bottom line is Jesus,” he said, “and his supremacy.”

Moved to make his own commitment to Christ

Banks was born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1934. He was largely raised by his sister, who was two years older than him, while his mother worked for a white family …

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