Christians should not revere Martin Luther King

Discerning Christians have a duty to be very careful in choosing their heroes. We should not idolize anyone because it’s popular to do so, but examine the person’s life very carefully, keeping in mind the full counsel of scripture. A lot of good Christians, both liberal and conservative, admire Martin Luther King, and hold him up as a great man, worthy of reverence and imitation. A careful examination of King’s life convinces me that Christians should not hold him up as a great hero.

First and foremost, King was an unrepentant adulterer. While the full details are impossible to pin down, it’s beyond any reasonable doubt that he was not faithful to Coretta, and had many affairs. If you believe the testimony of his right hand man, Ralph Abernathy, he was even committing adultery on the day of his death in Memphis. Rather shamefully, the official guardians of King’s legacy fight tooth and nail against acknowledging any of this, and try to pretend nothing ever happened.

You might ask why his unfaithfulness matters. Shouldn’t we focus on his civil rights activism, and let his private life be private? Biblically, the answer must be no. Whether private or not, sexual immorality is considered something of utmost importance by God. The Old Testament prophets, when describing why God punished Israel and Judah with destruction, does mention injustice to the poor. But just as often, it mentions the people’s sexual immorality. God will not overlook a practice of unrepentant adultery just because you stand up for the poor and needy.

Adultery has a corrosive and horrific effect on any nation. It destroys families, cheapens marriage, annihilates trust, and quite often leads to outright murder in the form of abortion. Nearly half a century after King’s death, millions of American families lie broken, destroyed by the false idol of sexual freedom, and a rejection of Biblical sexual morality. King ministered at a critical time in history, when the Moynihan Report had just come out. He could have been a powerful voice for sexual fidelity, as he was against discrimination and poverty. But instead he indulged his lusts, and generation upon generation has been influenced by his negative example.

As bad as his adultery was, it was still not his worst sin. Even worse was his cynical and insincere use of Christ and the Christian religion to advance his goals. An examination of King’s theological writings proves beyond any doubt that he rejected basically every doctrine of orthodox Christianity. He did not believe in the virgin birth, the trinity, the atonement, the second coming, the divinity of Christ, or ever the resurrection. Jesus truly was no more special to him than Gandhi or Aristotle. Why then was he, of all things, a Baptist preacher? Simple – his goal was advancing civil rights, and being a preacher was the best platform to pursue that goal. Christianity was a mask to be worn for the masses, but true faith was not in his heart

Again, you may ask why this matters. His civil rights aims were commendable, so why care if his theology was off-base? The answer is because King was taking God’s name in vain. God was just a tool to him, a name to cynically be invoked in the promotion of his own agenda. A totally disposable means to an end. In the words of 2 Timothy 3:5, he was a man who “had the appearance of godliness while denying the power thereof.” This is not the glory, honor, and respect that God deserves. God detests the invocation of His name by hypocrites who actually believe in him. How much more does he detest its invocation by someone who does not.

There are many other reasons to criticize Martin Luther King. Most importantly, his theory of passive resistance deviates from sound Biblical teaching on submission to government rather blatantly. But putting aside any other reasons, the two outlined above are more than reason enough to not hold him out as a hero for Christians. When we revere him, we continue to send the toxic messages that it’s OK to cynically invoke a God you don’t believe in for your own purposes, and that private sexual immorality is really no grave evil at all. Those are pretty horrible messages for Christians to tacitly promote. When it comes to men of the faith to imitate and learn from, we can do better.


2 responses to “Christians should not revere Martin Luther King

  1. I have several big problems with what you’ve written here: 1) King David was an adulterer, a liar, and a murderer, so what should we do with him? I know that David repented, because The Word tells us that he did. I have no idea what actually happened between Coretta Scott King and MLK, and I certainly don’t know whether MLK repented before God. 2) At least part of the reason MLK embraced heresies was because he couldn’t be admitted into conservative seminaries at the time because of the color of his skin. He went to a liberal one, and was indoctrinated there. That’s the history unfortunately. 3) MLK called out the hypocrisy of the white Christian pastors in his letter from a Birmingham jail for not their indifference, and lack of concern about justice. They said this has nothing to do with the Gospel. It’s a social issue. Where have we heard that before? They knew the Bible, and should have known better. 4) I stand in awe of Dr. King, and his courage. I have no doubt that he was used by God, even if he was an unbeliever, and I can’t say what was in his heart, or if like the thief on the cross he confessed his need for Christ in his final hour. Only God knows that. I do know that my life with my wife (she’s black, and I’m white) and our two kids would not be possible without his life’s work, and his martyrdom. I have literally been moved to tears when I think about his sacrifice, and how different my life, and how much worse our world would be if he had never lived, or had been a coward. 5) He stood on the fact that we are all created in God’s image, when so few Christians cared enough to do anything about it. That’s what we should celebrate, because the left has been trying to corrupt his legacy, and say that he was really teaching us to be more race conscious (read racist), and nothing could be further from the truth.

    • Well, I have to respectfully disagree with most of your points.

      1. On the adultery issue you can say, ‘maybe he repented,’ but you could say the same thing for literally any person who did gravely evil things. Yes, it’s hypothetically possible that he repented of it all. But it’s really not wise to stake our reverence for a figure on remote hypothetical possibilities. The facts are this: millions of families, especially in the black community, have been utterly destroyed by sexual immorality. King had a chance at a critical moment to be a witness for good on this front, and instead he did the exact opposite, leaving a negative example for countless generations to follow. I do not think it’s unfair to hold him accountable for that.

      2. My big issue here is not so much that King was a theological liberal who disbelieved in virtually every crucial Christian doctrine. It’s that he was a liar who took God’s name in vain. He could have presented himself as a unitarian humanist, and worked for civil rights from there. Instead, he set himself out as a faithful Baptist preacher. He used pulpits erected for gospel preaching to advance a personal agenda, neglecting to give the good news of Jesus to Christians in his care. That’s dishonoring to God, and dishonoring to those in his flock. Those who become preachers must be ‘above reproach.’ The ends do not justify the means.

      3. ‘Letter From Birmingham Jail,’ while convincing at first blush, is just not Biblical. Scripture commands submission to both good and evil authority. Not just gentle masters, but harsh masters. Not just believing husbands, but unbelieving husbands. Not just godly governments, but ungodly governments. Consider that not even the Israelites brutally enslaved by Egypt practiced civil disobedience, but continued to work until the lawful authority said “Go!” The only exceptions the Bible provides are when we are commanded to sin (book of Daniel), or when we are commanded to stop preaching the gospel (Acts 5). King no more had right to disobey laws he disagreed with than modern Christians have the right to bomb abortion clinics. Using Biblical and submissive means of fighting injustice is not the same as ‘indifference’ and ‘lack of concern’ about justice.

      4. The civil rights legislation of the 1960s would have been passed with or without King’s activism. The ‘arc of history,’ as his Letter put it, was inevitably going in that direction. After the Birmingham church bombing, and Lyndon Johnson’s ascension to the presidency, the end of legal segregation was basically a fait accompli. King was certainly courageous and sometimes inspiring, but I doubt the world would really be all that different if he had never lived.

      5. Yes, King did some good things. So did a lot of people in history who Christians should emphatically not revere or emulate. King has a virtually unmatched status as a larger-than-life hero among modern American Christians. It’s not unfair to ask if that status is warranted, and on the facts, it’s simply not.

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