Evangelicalism and Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Greg Linscott's picture

This. https://t.co/s9kxt5BpxR

— ᴾʰᶤˡ ᴶᵒʰᶰˢᵒᶰ (@Phil_Johnson_) November 10, 2017

What the church needs is "Roy Moore bad, MLK good" and "MLK bad, Roy Moore good" people to teach them about moral judgment

— Charles Finney (@chuck_finney) November 10, 2017

Greg Linscott
Marshall, MN

Bert Perry's picture

Dr. King has been dead for 49 years.  Why on earth is that ACCC warning about him?  What possible good can this do?  Do these people not realize that they are in effect flipping the bird at our black brothers and sisters?

 

TylerR's picture

The ACCC has been on a tear lately, issuing impotent resolutions from their irrelevant meetings. Not sure what on earth they're doing, or what they think they're accomplishing. Their feeble resolutions will warm the heart of those who are 60+, while making the rest of us laugh - just like we do when the crazed uncle comes over for Thanksgiving. 

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

WallyMorris's picture

The reasons for the ACCC's concerns are stated in their resolution. Whatever you may think of the ACCC, they have a point worth debating: Many Evangelicals seem to be ignoring or downplaying MLK's theology (and other aspects of his life) in an attempt to make amends for past segregationist views. We can admire MLK's personal courage in fighting segregation without ignoring his bad theology and personal life. Contrary to popular perception, black churches are not unanimous in their support of MLK. Also: We don't know whether the accusations about Judge Moore are true or not. It's very easy today to make such accusations and ruin lives without any due process of law. "Presumed innocent until proven guilty" applies to everyone except those accused of sexual crimes. Be careful.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

TylerR's picture

On MLK and his theological views, to quote the Madam Secretary, "what difference does it make?" I enjoy the ACCC's weekly resolutions. They add humor to my day. I hope they continue. 

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Bert Perry's picture

...but the ACCC really simply reverses the error; instead of over-emphasizing King's accomplishments, they over-emphasize his sins, and in doing so, are picking a fight with our black brothers and sisters.  Can't we be smarter about this at times?

WallyMorris's picture

MLK questioned the physical resurrection, the virgin birth, verbal inspiration, and more. It makes a lot of difference. As far as "smarter": When would be a good time to raise concerns? How should that be expressed? Sensitive topics like this are always difficult to address and please everyone. Someone will always criticize (as we see here).

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

Greg Linscott's picture

It seems like warning about someone like Thomas Jefferson or Ben Franklin and the dangers of America's founding documents because they were Deists. The contribution MLKJ is honored for is not theological. Most wouldn't recognize what he preached one way or the other.The laudable influence was in desegregation.

This shouldn't be too hard to grasp given the current state of politics and the options we are faced with. Support on one issue does not equal wholesale affirmation. how many people voted for Trump here? Who would want him teaching theology (though I hear his commentary on "Two Corinthians" is gold Smile )?

To Bert's point earlier, issuing a resolution like this makes the ACCC look like a white supremacist kind of organization--which I don't believe they are, but it's just not wise. Where are people being influenced by MLK's theology? Why is this a pertinent matter in our current context? The obvious cons outweigh any possible pros here.

Greg Linscott
Marshall, MN

TylerR's picture

For Jefferson's view of Jesus, see here. To the question, "what difference does it make," I don't believe MLK is seen as a theological figure, as Greg mentioned. Is there really a groundswell of appreciation for MLK's theological achievements in conservative Christianity? 

This resolution is about another sacred cow - separation:

Since the ecumenical evangelism of the 1950s, however, a number of professed evangelicals have disregarded God’s commands to mark and avoid false teachers. Instead, they have embraced theological liberals like MLK, as if they were believers in Christ. 

That's all this resolution is about. And, to be honest, I;m hesitant to call somebody a false teacher because of material they wrote while in Seminary. People change. I haven't the slightest idea what MLK actually believed, or whether he was a true Christian. If he had published theological works throughout the course of his life, then I'd be more comfortable telling people what he believed about certain things. The truth is, I really have no idea.

So, I ask again, what's the point of this resolution? Separation? Doesn't life get boring, writing and warning about the same three sacred cows all the time (e.g. music, separation, drinking)? How about a positive contribution to something?

  • Why doesn't the ACCC commission a multi-author response to transgenderism ideology, and publish it as an ebook?
  • Or, publish an ebook about a theology of vocation, to help ordinary Christians appreciate how God has gifted them, and where they fit into the secular workforce? 
  • Or, publish a quarterly online periodical with a fundamentalist response to pressing cultural issue of the day? 

Instead, it's often all about the sacred cows. This is why I'm so disappointed with these impotent resolutions. What does the ACCC exist for? So many missed opportunities. 

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Jim's picture

Piper, by the way provided a nuanced view of MLK:

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/martin-luther-king-changed-my-world...

Between that racially appalling world and this racially imperfect one strode Martin Luther King. We don’t know if the world would have changed without him, but we do know he was a rod in the hand of God. Leave aside his theology and his moral flaws. He was used in the mighty hand of Providence to change the world so that the most appalling, blatant, degrading, public expressions of racism have gone away.

MLK was used by God in a way analogous to how God used Cyrus & Nebuchadnezzar 

  • The Lord said of Cyrus: "Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose" (Isaiah 44:28)
  • And of Nebuchadnezzar: "Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant" (Jeremiah 25:9)

As Piper rightly said: MLK's morals were suspect (I'm not sure how much I believe the FBI files on him) and certainly his theology was way off; but he did for the black race what white evangelicals and fundamentalists should have done, but did not!

The ACCC resolution is a waste of time.

Bert Perry's picture

Another way of viewing King's apparent heterodoxy is this; he want to white liberal institutions outside of the fundagelical orbit, and at the time among the strongest defenders of segregation in the South were fundamentalists and evangelicals--that problem was the senior thesis of one of the guys that led me to Christ.  So where do you think he'd end up with that?  Even if he was more evangelical than those documents indicate, it would take a very strong man to go against the flow at the institutions he was attending--Doc Clearwaters writes about that in his autobiography.

And those FBI allegations?  Lot of anonymous sources--reminds me a lot of those "authoritative" reports from the Washington Post and the New York Times that never seem to lead to anything, unless they're an obvious intentional leak from the Mueller investigation.  

Overall, though, my take is that however flawed a messenger King was, he was showing "our tribe" a very ugly side of ourselves that had somehow remained a blind spot.  For that I am incredibly grateful, and because of that I really hate to see people pointing to his real and alleged flaws 49 years after his death.

josh p's picture

I agree the ACCC resolution is ridiculous. I am not aware of any theological conservative who has embraced MLK’s theology. That being said, I think we need to be careful interpreting MLK and even desegregation through providence and assigning meaning to it. I recently read Trueman’s, “Histories and Fallacies” and I thought he had some good stuff on this. Here is one quote for those who are interested: 

“The second problem with providential explanations is that they claim to read God’s will off the surface of historical events in a glib and easy manner. In fact, what they really do is allow the historian to express his or her own particular philosophical or moral commitments in a way that is invulnerable to external criticism. Once the “God’s providence” card is played, the argument is over. The Christian thinker who hates abortion is confronted by the outrage of 9/ 11 and uses the events as an opportunity for reinforcing his or her own moral understanding of the nation. The connection between the terror attacks and the nation’s stand on abortion is not empirically verifiable; it exists solely in the mind of the interpreter. It is a gnostic connection to which others have no access. Indeed, another person sees it as a judgment on militarism and free trade. In each case, providence is wheeled in as a means of providing divine sanction for the interpreter’s own political views. The interpretation itself cannot be verified because it offers an explanation that enjoys only a highly speculative connection to the empirical events.”

Ron Bean's picture

"We've got to find an enemy. for one of this year's resolutions..let's go after someone who's been dead for 49 years. Let's ignore that his liberal theology and supposed immorality had no influence on his positive effect on society. Let's ignore that he brought attention and change to a racist attitude that we had tolerated in silence (and sometimes promoted) for a century. He was an apostate and people we didn't know didn't and aren't separating from him" declare a handful of old white men in a small local church.

If someone wants to be consistent shouldn't we dismiss Jefferson's Danbury Letter on separation of church and state because he was a Christ denier and supposed father of a number of children by Sally Hemmings. Shouldn't we dismiss George Washington because he was a Mason and ran a whiskey distillery? 

"Now get off my lawn!"

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Steve Davis's picture

TylerR wrote:

The ACCC has been on a tear lately, issuing impotent resolutions from their irrelevant meetings. Not sure what on earth they're doing, or what they think they're accomplishing. Their feeble resolutions will warm the heart of those who are 60+, while making the rest of us laugh - just like we do when the crazed uncle comes over for Thanksgiving. 

I'm offended. I'm 63 and am not warmed. But I agree on the irrelevancy. I have another word in mind but will exercise control. Several years ago I was invited to address a crowd that gathered in West Philly for the unveiling of a bust of MLK at the site where he had spoken to thousands back in the 60s. He had a dream for people living a nightmare. 

TylerR's picture

Steve - maybe I should have written "70+" Smile Sorry . . .

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Ron Bean's picture

Steve - maybe I should have written "70+"  Sorry . . .

Now I'm offended!!!

 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

WallyMorris's picture

A Few Comments:

To say that resolutions of the ACCC or any other Christian organization are “irrelevant” is somewhat arrogant. The resolutions may be irrelevant to your particular interests, but perhaps not irrelevant to someone else. Contrary to what some at SI think, SI is not the sum total of Christian interests or participation.

The concern of the ACCC and the resolution seems to be the willful disregard of King's theology and personal life so that we (Christians with a guilty conscience) can “make up” for past sins. The problem the ACCC seems to be addressing is not that theological conservatives are embracing King's theology, but that theological conservatives make statements that imply that his theology doesn't matter. I have stated before and will state it again: King showed great courage in his opposition to segregation and the actions he took to oppose segregation. But (as some seem willing to do) his theology and personal life cannot and should not be whitewashed (I hope that isn't a racist term; you never know today) in order to be culturally correct. By the way, knowledge of his personal life does not have to based on FBI files but on statements made by close associates, who were ostracized by the NAACP and others for daring to be honest about King. The NAACP believed that revealing aspects of King's personal life would hurt the “movement”.

A valid topic for debate would be whether this resolution is the best way to express the concerns of the ACCC. But some of the reactions in this discussion are almost hysterical.

Comparing concerns about King (or more precisely concerns about Christians who seem to be eager to put King on a pedestal) to Jefferson or Franklin is weak. Neither Jefferson nor Franklin claimed to ministers (although Jefferson did butcher the NT to fit his theology, something which people in his time loudly criticized him for). King's theology cannot be separated from his work. And his theology wasn't just what he said in seminary.

Tyler has some good suggestions for what the ACCC could do as a “positive contribution”. Maybe they will do something like that. But it's about more than separation. Tyler seems to be the one focusing on separation all the time, not others.

To state that King was used by God in ways similar to Cyrus or Nebuchadnezzar assumes too much. No way to know that.

Some Evangelicals and Fundamentalists seem to be using King as psychological healing for sins of the past, many of which they had no responsibility for. That itself is perhaps racist. With all of the progress on racial problems in America, it's amazing that having a decent discussion about King is difficult and emotionally charged.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

Ron Bean's picture

 King showed great courage in his opposition to segregation and the actions he took to oppose segregation.

I don't recall any statements like this being made by a lot of fundamentalists when King was alive. Finally, after nearly 50 years, it's good to hear.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

TylerR's picture

I said the resolution was really about separation because the resolution said it was about separation.

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Larry Nelson's picture

 

"GREENVILLE, S.C. (November 29, 2016) – Bob Jones University President Steve Pettit announced today that BJU will annually observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day beginning January, 2017. University offices will be closed and classes will be cancelled for the day.

Working with the Center for Global Opportunities, students will be encouraged to take part in service opportunities in the Greenville area and participate in prayer sessions centered on racial harmony.

“Dr. King accomplished much in his short life here on earth,” said Pettit. “We believe his voice and leadership to nonviolently oppose the wrongs of the day while paving the way for racial equality and harmony should be respected and honored.” -

https://blogs.bju.edu/pr/2016/11/29/bju-to-observe-martin-luther-king-jr-day/

----------------------------------------

Accompanying remarks from BJU President Steve Pettit, in a BJU chapel session:

http://blogs.bju.edu/pr/2015/01/19/bju-president-steve-pettits-remarks-dr-martin-luther-king-jr/

---------------------------------------

Pettit spoke very favorably of MLK Jr. without once mentioning anything about his theology or presumptive indiscretions.  Huh.

Joel Shaffer's picture

The concern of the ACCC and the resolution seems to be the willful disregard of King's theology and personal life so that we (Christians with a guilty conscience) can “make up” for past sins. The problem the ACCC seems to be addressing is not that theological conservatives are embracing King's theology, but that theological conservatives make statements that imply that his theology doesn't matter.

 

Two things that I disagree with.  First, there are many conservative evangelicals such as Piper who have distinguished the theology or personal life from what he stood for in helping wake up America when it came to racial injustice. Because of this, they have shown Biblical discernment.   What's interesting is that its not just the extreme fundamentalists such as ACCC that are attacking these evangelicals about Martin Luther King.  Progressive evangelicals are also attacking Piper and other conservative evangelicals for the exact opposite.  That is, questioning King's salvation because of his liberal theology/personal life, while praising him for his example of a leader for social justice and change in America.   Soon-Chan Rah, a professor at North Park University devotes a whole chapter in his book, the Next Evangelicalism attacking conservative evangelicals for this very reason.   

Second, if you or the ACCC really believe that these evangelicals and fundamentalists who often incite King's legacy believe that they are "using King as psychological healing for sins of the past, many of which they had no responsibility for" because they somehow feel guilty, then you and the ACCC have just committed the logical fallacy of assuming or judging the motive, which is basically an ad hominem attack.  In Biblical terms, it crosses the line into the sin of slander.    You or the ACCC have no idea what they are thinking and why they have come to their conclusion unless they come out and actually state they they feel guilty about the 400+ years of racial oppression on this continent.   Yes, I have had conversations with a few white people who come up to me after I do a workshop or seminar on racial reconciliation that have some form of "white-guilt" but its never ever someone such as Piper who has spent many years of their lives and ministry devoted to racial reconciliation (because he was a pastor of an urban church for several decades) They moved way beyond that type of shallow thinking decades ago.   

WallyMorris's picture

Joel: Just mentioning it as a possibility. Not giving absolute judgment on motive. Your logic doesn't apply.

As far as BJU: Why not cancel classes for Presidents Day or Veterans Day? Why for King? The fact that King is being singled out suggests some other motive. Not judging, just asking.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

Bert Perry's picture

OK, if ACCC is going to require that any praise of Dr. King be tempered by pointing out that he gave some strong hints of being a theological liberal, do we then need to temper any praise of southern fundagelical theologians who worked before 1970 or so with a note of their outright, or tacit, support of Jim Crow?  Or, for that matter, if we're going to praise Southern Baptist, Presbyterian, or Methodist divines who worked prior to 1865.....?

Sauce for the goose, brothers, or more specifically, what's going on is a thinly veiled ad hominem fallacy that does not say polite things about the ACCC, and it's why I pointed out above that the ACCC is basically flipping the bird at our black brothers and sisters.  Those who didn't get the joke while watching Archie Bunker may approve, but for the rest of us....

Larry Nelson's picture

 

Bert Perry wrote:

OK, if ACCC is going to require that any praise of Dr. King be tempered by pointing out that he gave some strong hints of being a theological liberal, do we then need to temper any praise of southern fundagelical theologians who worked before 1970 or so with a note of their outright, or tacit, support of Jim Crow?  Or, for that matter, if we're going to praise Southern Baptist, Presbyterian, or Methodist divines who worked prior to 1865.....?

Wally said this above: "King's theology cannot be separated from his work."

Steve Pettit's statements demonstrated otherwise.

TylerR's picture

From the resolution:

Commenting on an upcoming TGC event titled, “MLK50: Gospel Reflections from the Mountaintop,” Moore also posited that “Dr. King appealed to [a gospel of reconciliation], and it is this gospel that belongs to the church as much right now as it ever has.”[9] But in neither of Moore’s statements did he explain that MLK’s gospel was actually an unorthodox social gospel, which cannot reconcile any man to God (Eph. 2:13-17, 2 Cor. 5:18-21).

What think ye?

Here is a larger quote from the event promo, from Russell Moore:

The legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., should remind us of what can happen when one speaks to the conscience of the culture and to the conscience of the church. Fifty years after Dr. King's assassination, it is shameful that the church often lags behind the culture around us when it comes to issues of racial justice, unity and reconciliation. We should be leading the way.

The gospel that reconciles the sons of slaveholders with the sons of slaves is the same gospel that reconciled the sons of Amalek with the sons of Abraham. It is a gospel that reclaims the dignity of humanity and the lordship of God. It is this gospel that Dr. King appealed to, and it is this gospel that belongs to the church as much right now as it ever has. My eager prayer for this event is that it will bring a word of gospel hope, repentance and unity to many brothers and sisters in Christ."

My initial thoughts:

  1. I'm not sure what MLK actually believed. His theological statements from Seminary are suggestive, but not the final word. Don't people get graduate training to get an education? I'm not comfortable labeling MLK as promoting a social gospel
  2. I'm not familiar enough with the content of MLK's message. Did he actually preach a social gospel? Do we have sermon transcripts? Did he write any theological works?
  3. The ACCC resolution suggests MLK was at best a compromised Christian, and at worst a heretic. I don't know enough to say that. Others do know enough. We all come to rely on certain authorities to provide relatively unbiased presentation of facts. I just don't trust the ACCC enough to believe the organization did due diligence before issuing a proclamation like this.

My issue with much of right-wing fundamentalism isn't so much what they say, but rather the sloppy, irresponsible and shallow way they often say it.

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Larry Nelson's picture

TylerR wrote:

  1. I'm not sure what MLK actually believed. His theological statements from Seminary are suggestive, but not the final word. Don't people get graduate training to get an education? I'm not comfortable labeling MLK as promoting a social gospel

.....a question I've raised in the past, to others, by the way: What were MLK Jr's alternatives for seminary education at the time?  In 1948 (the year he graduated from college with a B.A. and then subsequently enrolled in seminary), what extant theologically-conservative seminaries (were he so inclined) in the U.S. would have enrolled a young MLK Jr.  at the time?   Was there even one seminary approved of by Fundamentalism that would have admitted him? 

TylerR's picture

I agree. Moore likely did go too far; I'm just not familiar enough with how MLK framed the racial issue to say he promoted a social gospel or the real Gospel. From what little I've read, I don't believe he framed it as a theological issue. Maybe I'm wrong; but I just don't know. I haven't read a biography of the guy.

But, Moore's comment is why, I believe, some conservative SBC folks are suspicious of him.

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Ron Bean's picture

At least MLK Jr.'s doctorate was earned. (Just trying for a smile amidst the battle.)

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

TylerR's picture

Good one!

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

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