Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2020
This is from a piece Michael Spencer wrote in 2007, in which he complained that the day was not being celebrated well. One of his issues had to do with the attitude of the (white) evangelical church toward Dr. King.
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I don’t like the ambiguity of evangelicals toward Dr. King. If I preach about Dr. King, I can already tell you about the letters and comments. It’s even worse in the blogosphere. The venom and hatred of Dr. King is of a kind I haven’t encountered about any public figure. It goes beyond personal. Somewhere, it touches the fact that many evangelicals are committed to a kind of white flight, practical apartheid that lets the occasional minority preach or sing, but still wants an all white suburban private school so our kids can become “leaders.”
I know all the facts. Plagarizer. Theological liberal. Adulterer. I know that many Christians to this day feel he was out of line to provoke reaction. (Clarence Jordan of Koinonia Farm opposed public marches, even as his ministry was persecuted for integration.) When he’s mentioned by preachers and invoked by Bono, I can feel the shift in the room.
King wasn’t a saint on the level of perfection. He was flawed like David, and used by God anyway. I have read his sermons many times. They are hardly orthodox in some ways, but they have an incredible appreciation of Jesus in others. While some evangelicals will spend the day linking his college and seminary papers as evidence of his apostasy, I’ll be grateful no one can find my college and seminary work. Good grief.
We ought to be glad King’s vision was of the peace of Christ and treating people as the images of God. We should thank God he was willing to suffer, be bold and go to the cross. We should see him as an American martyr and thank God for his faith, Christ’s power in his life and his love for all persons, especially his enemies. We can learn a lot from him and we should embrace him.
Instead, evangelicals will be of split mind and some will make it their business to run down the great man as some expression of service to God. Weird. Here’s one time we can tell the culture to look at a flawed person and see the grace and power of God, and we won’t. I guess he’s not Pat Robertson. That’s right. He’s not. Look at all the orthodox evangelicals have done for racial justice. ***crickets***
In his day, King said the church- the moderate, white church- was his greatest disappointment. Progress has been made, but we still have a long way to go. Some evangelicals won’t learn from anyone that isn’t one of their “kind.” That’s their loss, and a poor witness.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the man and the day. I celebrate it. I pray for its genuine influence in our country. But we haven’t done so well with it, and I pray we can do better.
[If you want to celebrate the day, the Dream Speech is fine, but if you haven’t read Letter From Birmingham Jail, you don’t know why Dr. King is so relevant and important for Christians today.]